Cold War enemies the US and Vietnam demonstrated their blossoming military relations on Sunday as a US nuclear supercarrier cruised in waters off Vietnam’s coast — sending a message that China is not the region's only big player.
The USS George Washington’s stop is officially billed as a commemoration of last month's 15th anniversary of normalised diplomatic relations between the former foes. But the timing also reflects Washington’s heightened interest in maintaining security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
The visit comes 35 years after the Vietnam War as Washington and Hanoi are cozying up in a number of areas, from negotiating a controversial deal to share civilian nuclear fuel and technology to agreeing that China needs to work with its neighbours to resolve territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Last month US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton angered China by unexpectedly calling it to resolve territorial claims with neighbouring Southeast Asian countries over islands in the South China Sea.
China claims the entire sea and the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands over which it exercises complete sovereignty. But Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also have staked claims on all or some of the territory, which straddles vital shipping lanes, important fishing grounds and is believed rich in oil and natural gas reserves. Clinton announced that the US has a national interest in seeing the claims resolved.
Last month China also held naval drills in the South China Sea.