The US aircraft carrier visits the port of Da Nang as America looks to strengthen relations with Vietnam

BANGKOK (AP) – A US aircraft carrier and guided-missile cruisers will visit Vietnam on Monday, a rare port visit that comes as the United States and China increasingly compete for influence in Southeast Asia.

The USS Ronald Reagan, along with the guided missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Robert Smalls, arrived in Da Nang on Sunday for a visit.

Neighboring China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner, but Beijing’s sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea have led to increased friction With Vietnam, as well as with Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the United States is making diplomatic efforts to strengthen economic and military ties in the Indo-Pacific region.

The aircraft carrier’s port visit – only the third of its kind since relations were restored after the end of the Vietnam War – follows visits to Vietnam this year by US Secretary of State Anthony BlinkenUS Trade Representative Catherine Tay and USAID Administrator Samantha Power.

“Although carrier visits often draw media attention because of their highly visible nature, the broader question is how this will affect the development of relations, including Washington’s drive to improve ties,” said Prashanth Parameswaran, a fellow in the Wilson Center’s Asia Program. , he wrote in a research note.

“Too narrow a focus on airline visits could distract from the broader direction of a more comprehensive development of US-Vietnam defense relations and relations in general,” Parameswaran added.

Officers disembarked from Ronald Reagan on Sunday and were greeted by Vietnamese officers after they docked at Da Nang, a port that was modernized and expanded by the United States during the war for its own use.

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Some of the 5,000-plus sailors from the ship will volunteer at numerous community relations events, play sports with local athletes and participate in other cultural and professional exchanges during the visit through June 30, said Capt. Daryl Cardone, Ronald Reagan’s commanding officer. .

“A few Reagan sailors call Vietnam home, but for most it will be their first visit,” Cardone said in a statement from the US Navy.

Washington views Hanoi as a key part of its strategy for the region, and has sought to capitalize on Vietnam’s traditional rivalry with its much larger neighbor China in order to Expanding US influence in the region.

Japana staunch US ally, also had a port visit in Vietnam last week with its largest destroyer, the Izumo, after exercises in the South China Sea with the Reagan and other US ships.

China is also reaching out to try to mend fences, as it has sent a plane Naval training ship for her own port call in Da Nang a month ago as part of what she described as a goodwill tour that also took her to Thailand, Brunei and the Philippines.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry described the Reagan Port connection as part of a “normal friendly exchange for peace, stability, cooperation and development in both the region and the world.”

Parameswaran said Vietnam needs to balance its sensitive relations with Beijing with American outreach and domestic opinion, noting that polls indicate that the Vietnamese people have among the highest levels of pro-American sentiment in Southeast Asia.

Based in Yokosuka, Japan, the USS Ronald Reagan is America’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier. She is slated to be replaced in that role next year by the USS George Washington, also a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

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