A US aircraft carrier is scheduled to make a port call in Vietnam Monday for the first time since the end of the Vietnam War, one of the most controversial wars of the 20th century. The move signals how China's rise is bringing together former adversaries as the geopolitical landscape changes.
The carrier is the Carl Vinson and its set to anchor off Danang, the same Vietnam port city where the US war effort was primarily staged from during the Vietnam War. Rear Admiral John V. Fuller, the commander of the Carl Vinson strike group said, "It's a pretty big and historic step since a carrier has not been here for 40 years."
Fuller's own father served in Vietnam making the record voyage especially meaningful. "We hope to continue the same issue that we've always had, and that's to promote security, stability, and prosperity in the region," Fuller said. The carrier will bring the Carl Vinson strike group's 5500 sailors with it marking the first time such a large US force has been on Vietnamese soil since 1975.
The port call is scheduled to last four days and during the stay, the Carl Vinson's crew will visit an orphanage and a center for victims of Agent Orange, a chemical warfare agent used by the US military that has been blamed for poisoning generations of Vietnamese. The sailors are also expected to play basketball and soccer with their fellow Vietnamese soldiers.
The Carl Vinson has been deployed in the South China Sea for the last month while six governments compete over claims to various features in the South China Sea. The route is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and Vietnam has watched China build up sprawling artificial island military bases for the last several years.
China built permanent facilities on reclaimed land that "account for about 72 acres, or 290,000 square meters of new real estate," according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. Murray Hiebert, senior associate of the Southeast Asia Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said, "Hanoi's agreement to the aircraft carrier visit demonstrates Vietnam's anxiety about what China will do next in the South China Sea."
"The US is virtually the last man standing to which Hanoi can look for support in the South China Sea dispute," she said. Although the United States is not a claimant in the maritime dispute, the Navy insists its deployments in the South China Sea is important to ensuring maritime security.
"It's a stable environment where you have the ability to actually foment economic growth," Fuller added. "I think we've helped create the environment that has allowed for the 70 years of growth." Although things are starting to warm up between the United States and Vietnam, the latter still has 130 political prisoners ranging from environmental activists to religious advocates and even China's most famous female blogger.
The State Department intervened as a mediator last month and issued a statement calling on "Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution."
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