U.S. aircraft carrier approaches Vietnam for the first time since 1975

US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to arrive in Vietnam for historic visit

Vietnamese leaders agreed to the four-day port call during President Donald J. Trump's visit to the country a year ago.

"(MENAFN - Colombo Gazette) wp-image-123918" src="https://i1.wp.com/colombogazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/100274278_mediaitem100274277.jpg?resize=301%2C169" alt=" width="301" height="169" data-recalc-dims="1" / United States aircraft carrier Carl Vinson is making a historic call at Vietnam, the first time a ship of this size has visited since the Vietnam War ended. Vietnam challenges China's territorial claims in the sea, where Beijing has built up and militarized artificial islands that its neighbors depend on for fishing and commerce. Though the USA is not a claimant to the resource-rich waterway, it has long lobbied for freedom of navigation in the sea to counter China's growing influence.

"The visit marks an enormously significant milestone in our bilateral relations and demonstrates U.S. support for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam", said U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink. The war ended on April 30, 1975 with the victory of North Vietnam. Among other things, he announced a full lifting of the US' decades-old ban on weapon sales to Vietnam.

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

Danang, which was a major USA 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.

U.S. military ties with Vietnam have deepened since 2016, when Obama lifted the decades-old embargo on United States arms sales to the country as part of his Asia pivot.

Some Chinese commentators have used the USS Carl Vinson's presence in the region as justification to demand a rise in Chinese military build-up in the South China Sea.

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

Although there was no formal defense treaty signed, both leaders emphasized that ensuring a stable rule based order and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific was essential for the peace and prosperity of the region.

"It's a pretty big and historic step, since a carrier has not been here for 40 years", said Rear Admiral John V. Fuller, the commander of the Carl Vinson strike group.

Compared to the 11 active aircraft carriers in the US Navy, China now boasts just one.

Vietnam remains the most vocal claimant in the South China Sea dispute as the Philippines has backed off under China-friendly President Rodrigo Duterte.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, where more than $5 trillion of goods are shipped each year through some of the world's busiest waterways. Duterte has refused to implement a landmark 2016 worldwide tribunal ruling in Manila's favour over its competing claims with Beijing.

For Vietnam, which has objected most strongly to China over issues in the South China Sea, the expanding US involvement in Asia has been fortunate.

In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the Sunda Strait on April 14, 2017 in Indonesia. The 1,000 foot-long (300 meter) ship weighing 95,000 tons will be in Danang until its departure on Friday.

The visit includes friendly basketball and soccer matches between United States sailors and locals, along with an orphanage visit and navy band concerts.

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