US aircraft carrier ends visit to Đà Nẵng
by Paul Nguyen Hung

Ordinary Vietnamese welcomed the visit by the USS Carl Vinson. US and Vietnamese naval officers discussed basic natural disaster interventions. For experts, the US presence is a counterweight to China’s expansionism in the South China Sea.

Đà Nẵng (AsiaNews) – The USS Carl Vinson, the first US warship to dock in a Vietnamese port since 1975, ended its three-day visit to Vietnam today.

The presence of the aircraft carrier off Đà Nẵng marked a new beginning in US-Vietnamese relations, and reaffirmed the US role and interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Today is a historic day,” said Admiral John Fuller, commander of the US Navy combat aircraft group, at the welcoming ceremony in Đà Nẵng.

“We are very honoured to receive this warm welcome,” he added. “We also would like to thank Vietnam for its excellent logistical support. This makes this visit a reality. The United and Vietnam are working more closely than ever.”

The Vietnamese side was also pleased. The visit, said Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang, will “continue to promote bilateral relations within the framework of the two countries’ comprehensive partnership and contribute to maintaining peace, stability, security, cooperation and development in the region.”

During their stay in Đà Nẵng, US officers and sailors took part in many activities in the port city, such as outdoor musical performances, sporting events, visits and exchanges with five social support centres for children and the disabled, including the Victim Protection Centre, which treats victims of Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the United States from 1961 and 1971 over much of southern Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The US Navy delegation also discussed with its Vietnamese counterpart power and water technologies, helping local authorities and Vietnamese students to cope with natural disasters, as well as fire prevention and health care training.

Most Vietnamese welcomed the visit of the US warship to Đà Nẵng, especially local residents.

"We live near the sea,” Mr Nvh told AsiaNews, “but in the recent past, we have not had the courage to go out fishing. Many of our fishing boats have been sabotaged by Tầu Lạ (unknown boats, presumed to be Chinese). Our fishermen have been killed by 'para-military ships'. Now the 'right people' are backing us, people who come to protect us. In the meantime, our government does not care about us."

Ms Nguyen Ngoc H. is more sceptical. "Vietnam has welcomed many heads of state, such as US President Obama,” she said. “A few months ago, his successor Donald Trump visited the country, but the future of Vietnam cannot be based on an American aircraft carrier alone. It depends on the Vietnamese."

For some geopolitical experts, the visit by the USS Carl Vinson is not an isolated event but will see Vietnamese ports open to other US ships. This will have important implications for US military strategy in the region.

The US Navy gives Washington the means to maintain a long-term presence in the world’s seas, and the arrival of a US air carrier in Vietnam is particularly important in view of China's increasingly aggressive moves in the South China Sea.

“The US-Vietnam relationship does not stop at the visit of the air carrier USS Carl Vinson, but the latter is of great significance in view of the regional context,” said Prof Nmh, an American-Vietnamese political scientist.

“Many Asia-Pacific nations are facing China's provocative behaviour,” he explained. “Chinese warships and para-military ships have occupied vast portions of the sea, coral reefs and small islands like 'silkworms eating strawberries'. As a result, US involvement is extremely necessary to restrain Beijing’s ambitions.”

For Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, the visit is “a message to Vietnam, about how much we care about that relationship; it's a message to China, about what they're doing in the region; but it's also a broader message to everyone in the Pacific region, that the United States is here and we're here to stay.”