A US Navy aircraft carrier is expected to make a port visit to Vietnam in March, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday. It would be the first such visit in the postwar era, and the planned visit to Danang is likely to irritate China, which is critical of US moves that add to its military muscle in the region. Mattis and his counterpart, Ngo Xuan Lich, discussed the planned carrier visit during a closed-door meeting, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said. Davis noted the Vietnamese are awaiting final approval by more senior government authorities, but Mattis appeared to indicate it was a done deal, saying, "Thank you for the increasing partnership with our aircraft carrier coming in to Danang here in March."
The Vietnamese Defense Ministry said separately that the two defense ministries had submitted their proposals for a US carrier port visit to their leaders. The idea was floated last summer when Lich met Mattis at the Pentagon, reports the AP. "We recognize that relationships never stay the same. They either get stronger or they get weaker, and America wants a stronger relationship with a stronger Vietnam," Mattis told Lich. In a written statement after Mattis' meeting with Lich, the Vietnamese Defense Ministry said Lich had given Mattis "war artifacts of US military personnel in the war." It did not elaborate.