Tue, Mar 06, 2018 - Page 1 News List

US carrier’s visit to Vietnam puts China on notice

AP, DANANG, Vietnam

Commander of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet Vice Admiral Phillip Sawyer, right, greets Vietnamese officials yesterday in Danang, Vietnam.

Photo: AFP

For the first time since the Vietnam War, a US Navy aircraft carrier is paying a visit to a Vietnamese port, seeking to bolster both nations’ efforts to stem expansionism by China in the South China Sea.

Yesterday’s visit by the USS Carl Vinson, accompanied by a cruiser and a destroyer, brings more than 6,000 crew members to the central city of Danang, the largest such US military presence in Vietnam since it was unified under communist leadership in 1975.

“The visit of aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to Vietnam signifies an increased level of trust between the two former enemies, a strengthened defense relationship between them, and reflects America’s continued naval engagement with the region,” said Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The ships’ mission — a “friendship” visit that includes technical exchanges, sports matches and other community activities, Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said — marks a fine-tuning, rather than a turning point in relations.

The visit would “continue to promote bilateral relations within the framework of the two countries’ comprehensive partnership and contribute to maintaining peace, stability, security, cooperation and development in the region,” Hang said.

“Although the visit is mainly symbolic and would not be able to change China’s behavior, especially in the South China Sea, it is still necessary in conveying the message that the US will be there to stay,” Hiep said.

“They [Beijing] understand well the strategic rationale behind the rapprochement between Vietnam and the US, which was largely driven by China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea,” he said. “However, China also knows that Vietnam is unlikely to side with the US militarily to challenge China.”

Economic relations with the US in recent years have served as a counterbalance to Vietnam’s political affinity with China.

“The United States now is a very important trading partner with Vietnam and it is the most important destination of Vietnam’s exports,” City University of Hong Kong professor of political science Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩) said.

“In terms of security, both countries certainly share substantial common interest in the containment of China,” he said. “However, it seems that Vietnam does not intend to become an ally of the United States. It is basically a kind of hedging strategy, a kind of balance of power strategy.”

Several Danang residents said that they welcomed the visit.

“During the war, I was scared when I saw American soldiers,” said Tran Thi Luyen, 55, who runs a coffee shop in the city. “Now the aircraft carrier comes with a complete different mission, a mission of peace and promoting economic and military cooperation between the two countries.”

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