USA aircraft carrier to arrive in Vietnam for historic visit

USA aircraft carrier to arrive in Vietnam for historic visit

Vietnam held a ceremony on Monday afternoon to welcome the USS Carl Vinson on a historic visit marking the first time a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier has docked in the country since the Vietnam War ended.

The USS Carl Vinson, anchored off Danang, the port city that served as a major staging post for the American war effort in the country, reports The New York Times.

This comes as China has been building militarized artificial islands across the South China Sea, stirring concern among regional USA allies.

The Trump administration has been quietly increasing the number of US patrols in the South China Sea, but China has failed to respond as negatively to the patrols as it did during the Obama era.

"This visit marks an enormously significant milestone in our bilateral relations and demonstrates U.S. support for a strong, prosperous and independent Vietnam", Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning told reporters.

Given historic Vietnamese suspicions of Beijing, Hanoi's Communist Party leadership has forged a range of security relationships to balance its own ties with China. 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. "I am confident that engagements like this will further expand the comprehensive partnership between the United States and Vietnam".

The nuclear-powered carrier will anchor off the port city of Danang, where U.S. combat troops first landed in the war, making this a highly symbolic location.

Vietnam is among the claimants that has stood up most publicly against China, after the Philippines - long one of most ardent critics of Chinese expansion in the area - reversed course under President Rodrigo Duterte.

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Fighter jets on board the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

United States officials refused to be drawn on the tensions with China on Monday, insisting the trip was a routine deployment to the Western Pacific.

Danang, which was a major US military base during the war, is now Vietnam's third-largest city and is in the midst of a construction boom as dozens of resorts and hotels pop up along its scenic coastline. But it has made no secret of its desire to build up its naval forces and become much more regionally assertive.

In July 2016, an worldwide court ruled that the so-called "nine-dash line"-a demarcation line China uses to lay claim to parts of the South China Sea-is inconsistent with global laws governing maritime resources". A number of nations have competing territorial claims in the South China Sea region.

Since 2014, China has forged ahead with island-building in the disputed waters, despite a landmark ruling in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which said there was no legal basis for China's maritime claims.

Separately from this week's mission, US officials have said American warships would continue sailing without prior notice close to the China-occupied islands and atolls, an aggressive way of signaling to Beijing that it does not recognize its sovereignty over those areas.

The United States takes no sides in the disputes, but insists that freedom of navigation for all is maintained.

Yet it is far from assured if the highly symbolic USS Carl Vinson's high-profile visit will soon translate into a tangible military alliance against China.