U.S. carrier expected to visit Vietnam port city

U.S. carrier expected to visit Vietnam port city


A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier will visit Vietnam in March 2018 in a display of deepening defense ties between the countries.

Officials from the U.S. and Vietnam confirmed in late January 2018 that a U.S. aircraft carrier will visit the central port city of Danang after months of military diplomacy between Hanoi and the Pentagon, Reuters reported.

The prospect of an aircraft carrier visit surfaced when Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in May 2017. The idea resurfaced that summer when Vietnamese Defence Minister Ngo Xuan Lich met with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon.

When Mattis followed up with a visit to Hanoi in late January 2018, he met with Lich and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. “From postwar legacy issues to what Minister Lich called the positive trajectory of our military-to-military relations, I’m confident we’re on the right trajectory, sir,” Mattis said in opening remarks at the presidential palace, according to The Associated Press. (Pictured: U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, and Vietnam Defence Minister Ngo Xuan Lich review the honor guard during a ceremony in Hanoi, Vietnam.)

The countries share concerns about China’s aggressive island building in the South China Sea, and Vietnam has been a vocal opponent of China’s aggressive territorial claims.

“Vietnam does have one of the region’s fastest-growing economies, and so freedom of navigation and access in the South China Sea will be critical to them economically and, of course, in their security efforts,” Mattis said before arriving in Vietnam.

The planned carrier visit — the first since the end of the conflict between the countries in 1975 — was deemed “highly significant” by Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, according to Reuters. “It is a potent symbol of the way the defense relationship has moved forward against the backdrop of China’s rising power,” Storey said.

The U.S. and Vietnam have broadened their defense relationship in recent years to include areas such as maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping, according to The Diplomat, an online news magazine.

Their concerns about China’s claims in the South China Sea are shared by neighbors in the Indo-Pacific region. The militaries of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. are working more closely together as a “quad” of liberal democracies with a sharp focus on the South China Sea.

Each of these democracies boosted its military relations with Vietnam in recent years, with New Delhi providing advanced training for Vietnam’s emerging submarine forces and jet fighter pilots. Australia reached a deal with Vietnam to provide English-language training, information sharing and special forces cooperation. Japan, meanwhile, has provided naval vessels to Vietnam to help it improve its patrols and surveillance in the South China Sea.