After months of speculation, this week, we saw reports publicly emerge of a new U.S. aircraft carrier visit to Vietnam this week. The reports first surfaced on BBC Vietnam, subsequently followed by other outlets, including USNI. The latter report cited a confirmation of details by Admiral Phil Davidson, the head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, that the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt will visit Vietnam this week, with a stop scheduled at the coastal city of Da Nang.
Unsurprisingly, not much in the way of details have been disclosed publicly ahead of the visit. But per the South China Morning Post, the visit, which is expected to last a few days, will feature several engagements including a welcome ceremony featuring U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander John C. Aquilino, and U.S. Consul General Marie Damour.
The visit will further integrate aircraft carrier visits as one of the relatively newer components of U.S.-Vietnam defense ties, following the first one that occurred in 2018. And, more broadly, it also reinforces Washington’s regional presence and commitment amid China’s South China Sea actions, which have included actions directed against Vietnam in Vanguard Bank since last year.
To be sure, this aircraft carrier visit should not detract from the broader realities in U.S.-Vietnam ties. As I have observed before, the challenges for U.S.-Vietnam ties that have complicated ongoing efforts, including the official elevation of relations to a strategic partnership, lie more outside the defense realm, be it trade tensions or Vietnam’s continued commitment to carefully balancing ties between various powers in line with its various domestic, regional, and international realities. More broadly, some in Hanoi continue to be uncertain about the current status and future trajectory of Washington’s commitment on issues such as China and the South China Sea, as well as how China will react to Vietnam’s moves. Seen from this perspective, the gap between the first and second carrier visits also illustrates the “slowly but surely” progress of defense ties, which is partly the consequence of these broader dynamics.
That should not detract from the importance of the carrier visit. But it should be a reminder that even as we see periodic gains for U.S.-Vietnam relations such as this one, it will be critical to be cognizant of current realities as well as manage future expectations.
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