The US navy is to dock in the Vietnamese coastal city of Danang in March, in the first visit of an American aircraft carrier to the country since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
The USS Carl Vinson will arrive in Vietnam during the navy’s multinational disaster response exercises in the Indo-Pacific region, but its presence is also being widely perceived as an attempt to counter China’s military influence in Asian waters, where the East and South China Seas are the scenes of escalating territorial disputes.
Vietnam, which borders China, has long resisted its power and influence, but Beijing’s insistence that it controls almost all of the South China Sea has threatened competing territorial claims, including from Hanoi.
China’s assertion has also challenged US naval supremacy in the western Pacific, prompting Washington to attempt to woo Asian allies with the idea of closer military ties.
US aircraft carriers were a common sight off the coast of Vietnam in 1960s and 1970s, during the war. Relations between the two nations were normalised in 1995 and Washington lifted an embargo on weapons sales to Hanoi in 2016.
The news comes as the Japanese government is reportedly considering the deployment of surface-to-ship missile units across southern Okinawa to counter China’s rising maritime powers.
Officials are exploring plans to deploy a unit on the main Okinawa island in addition to other smaller islands in the region, with a view to bolstering its defences against Chinese vessels, government sources told Japanese media.
The deployment plans, which are expected to be detailed in the new National Defence Guidelines to be drafted by the end of the year, reportedly focus on advanced Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles with a range of more than 62 miles.
Territorial confrontation in the South China Sea
There are reportedly plans to install missile units on both Okinawa island and the smaller island Miyakojima, which would ensure that they can cover the strategically-located Miyako Strait which runs between them.
An administrative command centre was also likely to be set up on Okinawa’s main island to manage surface-to-missile units deployed across the region, according to Kyodo news agency.
The Miyako Strait in the East China Sea has emerged as a regional hotspot of tension, with Chinese naval vessels regularly fuelling tensions by passing through its waters every year over the past decade.
Miyako island also lies to the southeast of a disputed group of islands in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which emerged as a growing source of bilateral tension between the two nations.
Q&A | South China Sea dispute
Reports of the missile unit deployments coincide with a growing number of incidents involving increasingly assertive Chinese vessels venturing into waters close to the disputed islands.
Last week, three Chinese patrol ships reportedly entered Japanese territorial waters near the disputed islands, while last month, the Japanese government confirmed that a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine also had sailed around them.