United States aircraft carrier visits Vietnam, with a message for China

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"Our nations' relationship has reached new heights the past few years, and USS Carl Vinson's port visit to Vietnam is a reflection of that", Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift said in the statement.

"And that's to promote security, stability and prosperity in the region". Talks over the port call first took place after the USS Carl Vinson hosted Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Defence Nguyen Chi Vinh off southern California last October - making him the country's highest-ranking official to tour a United States carrier.

"They understand well the strategic rationale behind the rapprochement between Vietnam and the US, which was largely driven by China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea", he said.

Publicly, the United States has portrayed the four-day visit by the Vinson and its contingent of 5,000 sailors and aviators as a historic opportunity to enhance the budding friendship that has emerged between the two former foes.

So Vietnam's communist leadership is taking care to avoid any steps that might upset relations with its giant neighbour, our correspondent says.

More broadly, Vietnam has rapidly expanded its naval capabilities, including the purchase of kilo-class submarines from Russian Federation and the development of its naval facilities in the highly strategic port of Da Nang.

What lies at the heart of rapidly warming ties between the two former enemies is the rise of China, particularly its growing military presence across the South China Sea, which has threatened Vietnam's territorial and maritime interests as well as America's naval hegemony in Asia.

China has been aggressive in asserting claims in the South China Sea area, and has built islands on reefs and militarized those facilities.

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The war in Vietnam started in 1957 as partisan confrontation in the south of the country. Danang saw heavy fighting during the war as the site of a major USA military base, but those gathered showed no sign of bearing a grudge.

The Navy now makes regular, small-scale visits to Vietnam that the service calls "Naval Engagement Activities".

Economic relations with the United States in recent years have served as a counterbalance to Vietnam's political affinity with China.

In July 2016, an worldwide court ruled that the so-called "nine-dash line"-a demarcation line China uses to lay claim to parts of the South China Sea-is inconsistent with global laws governing maritime resources".

The Carl Vinson is filling in for the Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan, the Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier.

The port city on Vietnam's central coast is close to its Blue Whale gas field now being developed by U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil, as well as the increasingly fortified Paracel islands, which China occupies and Vietnam also claims. Since then, Chinese and Vietnamese troops have skirmished over ownership of islets in the South China Sea. "The United States and Vietnam are cooperating more closely than ever before".

Vietnam eventually backed down a month later, under pressure from China.

"Even as it moves forward with the U.S., Vietnam has been engaging China over South China Sea tensions", said Le Hong Hiep, a Vietnam expert at Singapore's ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute. 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.