U.S. aircraft carrier in Vietnam for the first time since the war

U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, docks at a port in Danang, Vietnam March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kham

A United States aircraft carrier has docked in Vietnam Monday, marking the first time such visit has taken place since the end of the Vietnam War.

The USS Carl Vinson, a 103,000-tonne carrier, along with two other ships, made their way to the Vietnamese port city of Danang to begin their five-day visit.

“The visit marks an enormously significant milestone in our bilateral relations and demonstrates U.S. support for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.

“Through hard work, mutual respect, and by continuing to address the past while we work towards a better future, we have gone from former enemies to close partners,” he added in a statement.

The three American ships are carrying more than 6,000 sailors and aviators. The crew are scheduled to meet their Vietnamese counterparts, visit victims of Agent Orange, and participate in a soccer match and a concert.

The ships’ arrival is the biggest U.S. military presence in the Southeast Asian country since 1975. The visit demonstrates the growing ties between the U.S. and its former foe, and it comes at a time when China’s presence in the disputed South China Sea continues to increase thanks to its rapid expansion on disputed islands in the region.

China has been constructing buildings and airstrips on the disputed Spratly islands, causing alarm for Vietnam and other nations in the region. Beijing is also getting closer to a deal with the Philippines, another player with claims in the disputed islands, to jointly explore the region for oil and gas.

On the other hand, Hanoi has rejected China’s claims as a basis for joint development, and they have since strengthened ties with the U.S., Australia, and India.

Although the U.S. has not taken any formal position on the dispute between China and the nations surrounding the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy routinely makes what it calls freedom of navigation operations to demonstrate its rights to fly and sail through the disputed sea, which it considers to be international waters and airspace.