WASHINGTON/HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has won the promise of a visit from a U.S. aircraft carrier and deeper defense cooperation from the United States as strains show with China over the disputed South China Sea.
Within Southeast Asia, Vietnam has become an increasingly lonely voice in challenging Chinese claims to the vast majority of the waterway and was forced to suspend some offshore oil drilling last month after pressure from Beijing.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich in Washington on Tuesday that a strong defense relationship was based on common interests that included freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
“The Secretary welcomed Vietnam’s engagement and growing leadership in the Asia-Pacific region,” a statement from the Pentagon said.
The defense ministers agreed on a visit by a U.S. aircraft carrier to Vietnam next year – the first such visit since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. President Donald Trump discussed the possibility of a carrier visit with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc when they met at the White House in May.
The agreement was consistent with Vietnam’s diplomatic strategy of being open to all countries, said Ha Hoang Hop, a Vietnamese political analyst who has advised the government.
“Vietnam is not willing to compromise on issues of sovereignty and also makes its own preparations,” he said.