The U.S. Navy is sending an aircraft carrier to Vietnam for the first time since the Vietnam War more than forty years ago. The reason for this courtship is an attempt to woo one of China’s neighbors and rivals to counter rising Chinese military influence in the region.
The USS Carl Vinson, part of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet, will visit Vietnam in early March. US Navy aircraft carriers were a frequent sight off the coast of Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, during the Vietnam War. North Vietnam’s victory in 1975 means that, in effect, Carl Vinson will be visiting the same government that the Navy bombed during the war. Relations between the United States and Vietnam were normalized in 1995, and Washington on weapons sales to the country in 2016.
Vietnam, which shares a border with China, has long resisted the power and influence of its much larger neighbor. Hanoi has had several wars with Beijing over the past two thousand years to maintain its political independence, the latest taking place in 1979.
Beijing’s insistence that it controls 90 percent of the South China Sea has trampled competing claims by its neighbors, including Vietnam. The United States, which opposes Beijing’s claims, has been soft-selling the idea of military ties to many of China’s neighbors, Vietnam included.
Meanwhile, this summer the hospital ship USNS Mercy will visit Vietnam as part of a broader tour of Southeast Asia. A says the Mercy will visit Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Vietnam as part of the Pacific Partnership program, an annual program that provides free medical and humanitarian services to remote communities throughout southeast Asia. While the services the Pacific Partnership program are important to these communities, the program does raise the profile of the United States throughout the region and generate positive publicity.