The relationship between Vietnam and the U.S. has reached new levels in recent years and the visit of the USS Carl Vinson is proof, Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said.
The visit to Da Nang by the USS Carl Vinson and strike force is the first by a USA aircraft carrier since 1964 - when the Viet Cong promptly mined and sank the USS Card in the Saigon River.
"Through hard work, mutual respect, and by continuing to address the past while we work toward a better future, we have gone from former enemies to close partners", he said.
United States warships have visited Vietnam several times since November 2003, when a USA frigate, the USS Vandegrift, made the first port call to the country since the Vietnam War ended.
The visit includes a number of cultural and community events, such as basketball and soccer matches between United States sailors and locals, an orphanage visit and naval band concerts.
Top leaders from both the United States and Vietnam discussed the possibility of an aircraft carrier visit a year ago in an effort to further relations.
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Hailing the "dramatic progress" in that relationship, United States ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink said the visit underscored U.S. commitment to the region and to Vietnam in particular. In 2016, former President Obama lifted a decades-old ban on military equipment sales to Vietnam and last year, the two countries signed a three-year plan for defense cooperation. The first port visit to Vietnam following the war was by the cruiser USS Vandergrift in November 2003, which docked at Ho Chi Minh City on the Saigon River.
The port city on Vietnam's central coast is close to its Blue Whale gas field now being developed by USA oil major Exxon Mobil, as well as the increasingly fortified Paracel islands, which China occupies and Vietnam also claims. China claims most of the South China Sea and has challenged traditional US naval supremacy in the western Pacific.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters Friday that China hopes the "exchanges between [the USA and Vietnam] would contribute to regional peace and stability in a positive and constructive way, instead of adding any unsettling factors".
But analysts say it inevitably sends a message to China as it continues to develop the disputed South China Sea. Some 58,000 American soldiers and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese were killed in the war.
"I'm very happy and excited with the carrier's visit", he said.
The USS Carl Vinson docked in Manila Bay on February 18. "Increased cooperation between the two countries in economic, diplomatic and military areas would serve as a counterbalance to Beijing's expansionism".