BANGKOK — An American aircraft carrier was due to make a port call in Vietnam on Sunday — a rare visit by one of the U.S. Navy's biggest ships that comes as Washington and Beijing both step up efforts to bolster ties with Southeast Asian nations.
The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, was scheduled to arrive in Da Nang on June 25 and stay through June 30, making use of a port that was modernized and expanded by the United States during the war in Vietnam, the country's Foreign Ministry announced.
It will be only the third such visit by an American aircraft carrier since the end of the hostilities.
The visit comes about a month after a Chinese navy training ship made its own port call in Da Nang as part of what it called a goodwill tour that also took it to Thailand, Brunei and the Philippines.
Japan's largest destroyer, Izumo, made a port call in Vietnam over the past week, following exercises in the South China Sea with the Reagan, among other American ships.
“Recently, Vietnam has received visits from naval vessels from different countries, and this time it will be a visit from the USS Ronald Reagan," Vietnam's VnExpress online newspaper quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Pham Thu Hang as saying.
"This is a normal friendly exchange for the sake of peace, stability, cooperation and development in both the region and the world.”
China is Vietnam's largest trading partner. But, along with a number of other countries in the region, tensions have been high of late over maritime and territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.
Washington, meantime, sees Hanoi as a key component of its strategy for the region and has sought to leverage Vietnam’s traditional rivalry with its much larger neighbor China to expand U.S. influence in the region.
During an April visit, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken broke ground on a sprawling new $1.2 billion U.S. embassy compound in the Vietnamese capital, a project the Biden administration hopes will demonstrate its commitment to further improving ties less than 30 years after diplomatic relations were restored in 1995.
Based in Yokosuka, Japan, the USS Ronald Reagan is the only forward-deployed American aircraft carrier. It is due to be replaced in that role next year by the USS George Washington, also a Nimitz-class carrier.