United States carrier on historic Vietnam visit amid sea rift with China

Posted March 06, 2018

During the four-day port call, USA sailors will play basketball and soccer with Vietnamese counterparts in addition to visiting an orphanage and a center for victims of Agent Orange, the toxic chemical compound used by the United States during the conflict to destroy jungle and forest. With China also hurrying to strengthen its navy, the Sino-American competition for superiority in the Asia-Pacific region appears bound to intensify.

USA aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrives at a port in Danang, Vietnam Monday. Danang saw heavy fighting during the war as the site of a major USA military base, but those gathered showed no sign of bearing a grudge.

An inter-sectoral official delegation from Vietnam visited USA aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on March 3-4 when the ship passed through the global waters near the country's coast.

That effort appears squarely aimed at providing a check on China's use of its military and economic might to expand its influence in Asia.

But continuing tensions in the South China Sea loom over the trip as Beijing continues to build artificial islands capable of hosting military installations - much to the chagrin of Vietnam and other claimants to the sea.

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In January, the Defense Department labeled China and Russian Federation "revisionist powers" seeking to undermine the global order.

During their stay, US sailors will play friendly basketball and soccer matches with locals, hold navy band concerts and visit a center for victims of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant sprayed over large swathes of land by the USA during the Vietnam War. The carrier also stopped in the Philippines in February.

Since 2009, Vietnam has sent officials to visit the US's aircraft carriers when they went through the global waters near the country's coast.

United States warships have visited Vietnam several times since November 2003, when a USA frigate, the USS Vandegrift, made the first port call to the country since the Vietnam War ended.

Some Chinese commentators have used the USS Carl Vinson's presence in the region as justification to demand a rise in Chinese military build-up in the South China Sea. China has condemned the operations and has responded in the past by scrambling fighter jets to monitor the US vessels.

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Vietnamese envoys had been working for months to ease the concerns of their giant Chinese neighbour over the visit and the prospect of broader security cooperation between Hanoi and Washington, according to diplomats and others familiar with the talks.

That the USA has sent its "epitome of modern naval power" to the area delivers a message to China, wrote Carl Thayer, professor of politics at the Australian Defence Force Academy, wrote in a policy briefing.

During their stay in Da Nang, U.S. Navy officers will meet their Vietnamese counterparts and local authorities, who will be invited on a tour of the carrier.

"The United States is here to maintain rules, laws and norms, and we'll do that in South China Sea".

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