‘Historic’ US aircraft carrier visit in Vietnam raises global headlines, and expectations

By Phan Minh   March 5, 2018 | 08:52 pm PT
‘Historic’ US aircraft carrier visit in Vietnam raises global headlines, and expectations
U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson docks off Tien Sa Port in Da Nang on Monday. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
The USS Carl Vinson's arrival aims to boost ties between the former foes and help maintain regional security.

The arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier in Vietnam for the first time since the Vietnam War ended in 1975 has captured worldwide attention.

The USS Carl Vinson and two U.S. naval combat ships began a five-day visit to Da Nang on March 5, carrying 6,500 crew members who are set to take part in a series of military and cultural activities aimed at strengthening ties with the former foe at a time of evermore complex regional geopolitics. 

Global news outlets have saved numerous headlines for the diplomatic milestone. “Historic” was how the event has been described by Time, the BBC and the Telegraph, while CNBC called it a “landmark visit.”

The USS Carl Vinson has anchored off the central city of Da Nang, where American combat troops first landed at the start of the Vietnam War, which, according to the BBC, makes it “a highly symbolic location.”

CNN also said that the visit “is far from a standard port call”. It said the U.S. has publicly portrayed the visit as “a historic opportunity to enhance the budding friendship that has emerged between the two former foes.”

The U.S. crew is scheduled to visit victims of Agent Orange, a defoliant sprayed by the U.S. Army between 1961 and 1971, which caused generations of people in Vietnam to suffer severe health consequences such as cancer, birth defects and other neurological and psychological problems.

But the visit is not just a reconciliation effort.

The New York Times said it signals a “significant shift in the region’s geopolitical landscape" and that regional tensions are bringing together the two former enemies.

“It’s a pretty big and historic step, since a carrier has not been here for 40 years,” the report cited Rear Adm. John V. Fuller, the commander of the Carl Vinson strike group, whose father served in Vietnam, as saying.

“We hope to continue the same issue that we’ve always had,” he said, “and that’s to promote security, stability and prosperity in the region.”

The arrival of the U.S. aircraft carrier was officially announced during Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to Hanoi in January, following a state visit by President Donald Trump in November.

Defense relations between Vietnam and the U.S. have been strengthened since 2016, when President Obama decided to fully lift the ban on the sale of assault weapons to Vietnam. The Trump administration has also identified Vietnam as a “cooperative maritime partner.”

Derek Grossman, an expert at the American global policy think tank RAND, said that while the future of U.S.-Vietnam defense cooperation remains unclear, the relationship is likely to focus on helping Vietnam enhance its maritime awareness and security capabilities at sea.

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