nsucurrent.com March 17, 2018

USA carrier on historic Vietnam visit amid sea rift with China

06 March 2018, 01:59 | Colleen Roy

San Diego-Based USS Carl Vinson Making Historic Port Call in Vietnam

US carrier Carl Vinson docks in Danang for 1st time since Vietnam War

The USS Carl Vinson arrived in Vietnam Monday for a port call, marking the first time a us aircraft carrier has visited the country in more than 40 years.

The four-day port call - which U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Dan Kriten-brink called an "enormously significant milestone" that shows "U.S. support for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam" - will include more than 5,000 sailors from the Carl Vinson, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain and the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer.

"I'm not going to speak specifically to China", Rear Admiral John Fuller, commander of the Carl Vinson strike group, told reporters Monday. "We hope to continue the same issue that we've always had and that's to promote security, stability and prosperity in the region".

Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said the visit underscores its good relations with the USA and contributes to "maintaining peace, stability, security, cooperation and development in the region".

Danang was a major U.S. military base during the Vietnam War. In June 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited the USNS Richard C. Byrd in Cam Ranh Bay - the logistics hub of USA forces during the Vietnam War.

While some Chinese commentators have used the Vinson's presence to demand an even greater Chinese military build-up in the South China Sea, official reaction from Beijing has been relatively muted since the stop was announced in January.

"It's a message to Vietnam, about how much we care about that relationship; it's a message to China, about what they're doing in the region; but it's also a broader message to everyone in the Pacific region, that the United States is here and we're here to stay", Kirby said.

During the visit, US sailors will also participate in cultural and professional exchanges, including community service projects, sports competitions and receptions, according to a Navy news release. China has condemned the operations and has responded in the past by scrambling fighter jets to monitor the USA vessels.

Several Danang residents said Monday that they welcomed the Navy's visit.

It marked the largest American military presence on Vietnamese shores since 1975, signaling the emergence of an unlikely alliance between Washington and the Southeast Asian communist regime. In 2016, former President Obama lifted a decades-old ban on military equipment sales to Vietnam and last year, the two countries signed a three-year plan for defense cooperation.

Huynh Quang Nguyen, a taxi driver, echoed the sentiment. "Increased cooperation between the two countries in economic, diplomatic and military areas would serve as a counterbalance to Beijing's expansionism".

In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the Sunda Strait on April 14, 2017 in Indonesia. The Ronald Reagan began its Selected Restricted Availability maintenance period in January at Yokosuka Naval Base after completing its fall patrol late a year ago.

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