A U.S. Aircraft Carrier Anchors Off Vietnam For The First Time Since The War : Parallels The USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered carrier, is expected to spend four days at the port of Danang at a time of tensions over China's expansion in the South China Sea.

A U.S. Aircraft Carrier Anchors Off Vietnam For The First Time Since The War

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The USS Carl Vinson is in De Nang, Vietnam. And it is the first U.S. aircraft carrier visit since the end of the Vietnam War. And it comes at a time of increasing tension between the U.S. and China and between China and some of its neighbors, including Vietnam. Reporter Michael Sullivan has more.


MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: In the capital, Hanoi, there's plenty of reminders of what the Vietnamese call the American war. The B52 Victory Museum is one of them - wreckage of U.S. bombers scattered around the grounds, Vietnamese antiaircraft missiles flanking the entrance. What's missing is visitors.

PHAM HONG THUY: (Speaking Vietnamese).

SULLIVAN: 82-year-old Pham Hong Thuy, who's here attending his grandsons, says young people just aren't interested. People in their 20s and 30s don't know or care much about the war, he says. It's in the past. And the U.S. and Vietnam, he says, are now friends.

Vietnam's relationship with China, though, is way more complicated, says retired Major General Nguyen Duc Huy.

NGUYEN DUC HUY: (Speaking Vietnamese).

SULLIVAN: "In theory," he says, "we're friends. But they continue to take our islands and ocean whenever they have a chance. Please remember the Vietnamese people have thousands of years' experience fighting against the Chinese," he says. "What's going on now isn't new."

HUY: (Speaking Vietnamese).

SULLIVAN: The 88-year-old general is sharp as a tack and proud to show a picture of him with Fidel Castro in Vietnam's Quang Tri province in 1973. He's fought the French, the Americans, the Khmer Rouge and the Chinese twice now, he says - during the 1979 border war and again in the mid-'80s. Not surprisingly, he thinks this week's U.S. aircraft carrier visit is a good thing.

HUY: (Speaking Vietnamese).

SULLIVAN: "We welcome the visit of such a mighty show of force by a friend."

Carl Thayer, a longtime Vietnam watcher at the University of New South Wales Canberra, says the carrier visit is another move forward in the relationship between the two former foes, one Vietnam was initially reluctant to agree to to avoid antagonizing China.

CARL THAYER: It was U.S. initiative to request the carrier visit. And Vietnam has taken a deep breath and decided that it's worth the risk to bring an American carrier there because of China's unrelenting militarization.

SULLIVAN: And then there's the optics.

THAYER: The USS Carl Vinson is the mightiest warship afloat. It brings, along with its escort ship, more firepower than China can assemble in all of its seven artificial islands or even its South Sea fleet, basically.

SULLIVAN: Hoang Ngoc Giao, who directs the Institute for Policy, Law and Development Studies in Hanoi, also says the ship visit is a warning to China, though Vietnam's government has been very careful not to label it as such. And he also gives credit to President Trump for a more robust U.S. presence in the South China Sea.

HOANG NGOC GIAO: (Speaking Vietnamese).

SULLIVAN: "I think Mr. Trump has taken stronger steps in the South China Sea. Under the Obama administration," he says, "there was much talk but little action. If the Obama administration had been this strong," he says, "I don't think China would've done all its militarization in the Paracel and Spratly Islands."

In De Nang, where the Carl Vinson will be spending the next few days, the visit is also getting high marks, especially from fishermen in Da Nang Harbor who frequently tangle with Chinese vessels at sea, says Captain Pham Van Thanh.

PHAM VAN THANH: (Speaking Vietnamese).

SULLIVAN: "The more U.S. ships there are, the less we'll be harassed by the Chinese," he says, "and things will be more stable. Until then, there's nothing we can do."

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Da Nang.


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