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After 40 years, U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson arrives in Vietnam

After 40 years, U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson arrives in Vietnam

A United States aircraft carrier arrived in Vietnam Monday for the first time since the end of the war, as the former foes bolster military ties in the face of Beijing's build-up in the disputed South China Sea.

The USS Carl Vinson will make a four-day port call to the central city of Danang for a highly symbolic trip that will include a visit to a centre for victims of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant sprayed over large swathes of land by the US during the Vietnam war.

During their stay, USA sailors will play friendly basketball and soccer matches with locals, hold navy band concerts and visit a center for victims of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant sprayed over large swathes of land by the US during the Vietnam War.

"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.

"Through hard work, mutual respect, and by continuing to address the past while we work toward a better future, we have gone from former enemies to close partners".

Analysts say the visit by the aircraft carrier to Vietnam is a clear shot at Beijing, created to counter China's aggressive island building and militarization in the South China Sea. Hanoi's leaders have rejected China's claims as a basis for joint development, and have stepped up ties with the U.S., Australia and India to hedge against Beijing's rise. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the sea.

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Cultural exchanges, including culinary and sporting activities, will take place between some of the US military personnel on board and their Vietnamese counterparts.

Vietnam remains the most vocal claimant in the South China Sea dispute as the Philippines has backed off under China-friendly President Rodrigo Duterte. On Monday, Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines and China need a treaty before any joint exploration can take place. Some 58,000 American soldiers and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese were killed in the war. "They might be irritated but gradualism is the key word here.Vietnam will only embrace the U.S.at a pace that doesn't cause an over-reaction from China".

However, a visit by an aircraft carrier is of a different level and something that government officials in Beijing will be paying close attention to. It will contribute to maintaining peace, security and stability in the region, she said. The US frequently sends naval vessels to patrol the sea in what it calls "freedom of navigation" exercises.

American military ties with Vietnam have deepened since 2016, when Obama lifted the decades-old embargo on USA arms sales to the country as part of his Asia pivot. "However, China also knows that Vietnam is unlikely to side with the U.S. militarily to challenge China". If China crosses Vietnam's red line, Vietnam must defend its position.

During their stay in Da Nang, U.S. Navy officers will meet their Vietnamese counterparts and local authorities, who will be invited on a tour of the carrier.

Though US military ships have regularly docked in Vietnam in recent years, this is the first port call for an aircraft carrier.


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