When the USS Carl Vinson and its accompanying escort vessels berthed in Danang on the Vietnam central coast earlier today its arrival was symbolic on many fronts.
The visit by the world’s largest aircraft carrier is the first since the end of the US-Vietnam war in 1975, except then aircraft and helicopters were being pushed off the decks into the sea to make room for those evacuating in the final days of the north-south war.
Coming on the back of the recently concluded Cobra Gold military exercise in Thailand, the largest multilateral exercise in the Indo-Pacific region, a freedom of navigation exercise by the ship through the South China Sea, and a similar port visit to Manila last month, the visit serves to highlight the deepening relationship between the US and its Asean allies in the wake of uncertain and mixed signals from the White House under the current administration.
While US and Vietnamese officials have attempted to downplay the significance of the USS Carl Vinson‘s visit, relationships between the US and Vietnam military have been strengthening recently. In November last year during a brief visit, US President Donald Trump urged Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to buy missiles and other weapons systems from the United States.
At the same time, Vietnam and the US are embroiled in ongoing bilateral trade talks, with the former holding a US$32 billion trade surplus that the US President would like to see reduced.
Vietnam is concurrently negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), of which China is a member, and in the throws of finalising the CPTPP, or TPP-11, which the US pulled out of last year.
At the same time China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) is this week expected to overwhelmingly support a proposal to remove the presidential term limit, opening the way for President Xi Jinping under whose watch South China Sea reclamation and militarisation has occurred, to continue for additional terms. Additionally, the opening of China’s annual meeting of parliament today was told that the military budget for 2017 will be increased by 8.1 per cent to $175 billion as part of China’s plan to build a “world class military”.
With the US talking about trade wars and China thumping its sovereignty drum, the 102,900 ton ship and its complement of more than 5,300 sailors, airmen, and civilians, some 70 FA18 Super Hornets and Hornets, EA 18G Growlers, Nighthawk helicopters, and surveillance aircraft, sends a strong message to Beijing over its continued expansionism in the South China Sea.
Two years ago while Asean leaders were sitting down for an ‘Asean Summit‘ hosted by former US president Barack Obama, Beijing ratcheted up South China Sea tension by installing surface-to-air missile launchers and a radar system onto Woody Island (Yongxing Island in China, and Phu Lam Island in Vietnam), each capable of destroying Vietnamese fighters on take-off. Hardened shelters for fighter aircraft were also installed.
According to the Vietnam government the USS Carl Vinson will visit Vietnam for five days during which US Navy officers will meet their Vietnamese counterparts and local authorities, though no topics or agendas have been released.
|The USS Carl Vinson at anchor off Danang, Central Vietnam
Video: Báo Tuổi Trẻ
Feature video BBC Tiếng Việt
- USS Carl Vinson makes historic visit to Vietnam in ‘routine’ port call (Channel NewsAsia)
- US aircraft carrier docks in Vietnam on start of landmark visit (VN Express)
- A U.S. Aircraft Carrier’s Historic Vietnam Port Call Sends a Message to China (Time) (metered paywall)