The four-day visit by the USS Carl Vinson (pictured) and its 5,000 sailors and aviators has been hailed as a sign of a deepening friendship as they work together to oppose China’s expansion.
Chinese aggressive island building and militarisation in the South China Sea raises concern in Washington and Hanoi.
“Vietnam has been deeply concerned about China’s pugilistic and aggressive moves in the South China Sea,” said John Kirby, a retired US rear admiral.
“They are worried about where China is going, and they have wanted for years now to have a better relationship with the United States.”
The 95,000-tonne carrier is due to stop offshore from the port of Danang, which housed a vast US base during the war.
The central city is close to the Blue Whale gas field now being developed by US oil giant Exxon Mobil, as well as the increasingly fortified Paracel islands.
China occupies the Paracels, against Vietnam’s wishes, and its build-up on seven features it holds in the Spratly chain further south also alarms Vietnam.
Cultural exchanges, including culinary and sporting activities, will be organised. A visit has been arranged to a centre for victims of Agent Orange, the toxin used by the US to kill foliage, partly to provide clear fields of fire at defensive positions.
US military ties with Vietnam deepened in 2016, when former president Barack Obama lifted the embargo on US arms sales as part of his Asia pivot policy.
The US frequently patrols the South China Sea and its vessels are routinely shadowed by Chinese ships.
Despite withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, of which Vietnam was a major partner, Trump has maintained strong ties with Hanoi.
In November, Trump visited Vietnam to underline US commitment to Asean, followed by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in January.
Russia, Hanoi’s major patron through the Cold War, remains the key supplier to the Vietnamese military, and India and Israel are increasingly important suppliers.
To the east, aerial pictures of China’s reclamation in the Spratly Islands recently printed by the Philippine Inquirer show reefs and sandbars turned into island fortresses with ports, air strips, lighthouses, hangars and accommodation.
USS Carl Vinson. Picture credit: Wikimedia