March 5th : US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson is making a historic call at Vietnam, the first time a ship of this size has visited since the Vietnam War ended.
The nuclear-powered carrier set anchor off the port city of Danang, where US combat troops first landed in the war, making this a highly symbolic location.
The visit is meant to demonstrate the countries’ growing military ties.
But analysts say it inevitably sends a message to China as it continues to develop the disputed South China Sea.
It comes as China announced a military budget of 1.11 trillion yuan, an 8% increase on last year, as its annual meeting of parliament got under way in Beijing.
The presence of a US aircraft carrier in Danang, one which will be conducting so-called « freedom of navigation » passages through the disputed areas of the South China Sea, also sends a potentially provocative message to China – but only a symbolic one.
To date US expressions of concern over China’s actions in the sea have had no discernable impact on the construction of military facilities there.
The US carrier strike group looks impressive, but it is not clear what it can actually do to restrain China. Even as Vietnam’s top brass enjoy watching the full might of the superpower they once fought now paying court as a would-be ally, they must remain mindful of the continuing historic shift in the balance of power in their region away from the United States, in favour of China.