For the first time since the end of the war between Washington and Hanoi, a US aircraft carrier landed in Vietnam for a five-day stay, a symbolic event that underlines the gradual rapprochement between these two former enemies in the face of China’s push in the region.
In total, 6,500 soldiers arrived on Monday aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and the two warships that escort him to the port city of Danang, the same one in which the first contingent of marines disembarked during the war and that would later become on the main US air base in one of the key conflicts of the second half of the 20th century. During their stay, the military will visit an orphanage and a center for victims of Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the US Army that poisoned generations of Vietnamese and participate in sports and cultural activities.
But beyond reinforcing diplomatic relations, analysts agree in highlighting that this visit comes to demonstrate the narrowing of the military ties between both nations in the face of the growing expansive policy of Beijing in the South China Sea. In those waters, whose sovereignty is disputed up to six governments, the Chinese Communist authorities have been building and fortifying artificial islands for years that can soon be used as military bases, a fait accompli policy criticized by Vietnam.
“Hanoi’s approval of the carrier’s visit demonstrates Vietnam’s anxiety about what China will do next in the South China Sea,” said Murray Hiebert, of the Center for International Strategic Studies, to the New York Times. “The US is practically the last man in which Hanoi can seek support in its dispute over the South China Sea.” Although Washington does not agree with any of the parties to this conflict, its military ships conduct navigation exercises periodically in the area to, they say, guarantee the freedom and safety of waters through which approximately one-third of the global maritime trade.
Although the two countries are ruled by a communist party, the relations between Vietnam and China are not as fluid as it might at first appear. In addition to the territorial disputes already cited, they clashed in a border war in 1979 and from time to time there are episodes of tension between them, such as anti-Chinese demonstrations in Vietnam in 2014 in which two workers of the Asian giant who were in the neighboring country were killed.
Even so, Beijing is the regional superpower – with global aspirations – and Hanoi’s biggest trading partner, so the Vietnamese authorities have been trying for some time to maintain a delicate balance and prevent the visit of Carl Vinson and a possible rapprochement with the US. seen by China as a challenge or threat.
“In the last two years, there have been no major conflicts between China and Vietnam over the South China Sea issue, there was a positive momentum in relations in 2017 and achievements in Vietnam’s economic development.” Obviously, Vietnam will not win the favor of some distant and changing USA to put the danger in the peaceful situation that cost him so much to win “, warned recently in one of his editorials the newspaper Global Times, speaker of the most nationalist positions of the Chinese Communist Party.
According to some analysts, it is this desire not to irritate China and maintain balance and independence that has led Hanoi to limit naval exchanges with the US despite Washington’s offerings and not increase purchases of US weapons despite that during the presidency of Barak Obama -which in 2016 gave the definitive impulse to military, diplomatic and commercial relations between the two countries-, the embargo on sales of lethal weapons imposed in 1984 on his former enemy was lifted.
Now, the docking of Carl Vinson has become, along with the visit of President Donald Trump to Vietnam last year, in the two biggest milestones in the relations between the two countries in recent times. Even so, the cooperation between both is limited and it remains to be seen how far it can go with a booming China that today announced an 8.1% increase in its defense budget for this 2018.
Source: El Mundo