US carrier on historic visit to Vietnam amid sea rift

ABOARD THE USS CARL VINSON: A US aircraft carrier arrived in Vietnam on 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 war.
But continuing tensions in the South China Sea loom over the trip as Beijing continues to build artificial islands capable of hosting military installations — much to the chagrin of Vietnam and other claimants to the sea.
Though the US is not a claimant to the resource-rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in trade passes annually, it has long lobbied for freedom of navigation there to counter China’s growing influence.
The US and Vietnam have seen an extraordinary turnaround in relations since the end of the war in 1975.
Hailing the “dramatic progress” in that relationship, US ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink said the visit underscored US commitment to the region and to Vietnam in particular.
“The United States and Vietnam share a range of interests including a desire to maintain peace, prosperity, unimpeded commerce, (and) freedom of navigation, upon which the region and its economies depend,” he told reporters on Monday.
Though US military ships have regularly docked in Vietnam in recent years, this is the first port call for an aircraft carrier. It will anchor just off Danang, where US Marines landed 53 years ago this month — the first direct involvement by American combat troops in the war. — AFP