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The silhouette of the USS Carl Vinson is seen yesterday from the Vietnamese city of Danang, where the 103,000-tonne aircraft carrier and two other USA ships began a five-day visit. With China also hurrying to strengthen its navy, the Sino-American competition for superiority in the Asia-Pacific region appears bound to intensify.

"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", said U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Dan Kritenbrink.

The port call is seen as both a landmark in evolving U.S. -Vietnam relations and a strong message to China, which is taking aggressive action to seize control over the entire South China Sea. "They might be irritated but gradualism is the key word here.Vietnam will only embrace the U.S.at a pace that doesn't cause an over-reaction from China". Danang saw heavy fighting during the war as the site of a major USA military base, but those gathered showed no sign of bearing a grudge.

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"The visit marks an enormously significant milestone in our bilateral relations and demonstrates US support for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam", Kritenbrink said.

In January, the Defense Department labeled China and Russian Federation "revisionist powers" seeking to undermine the worldwide order. The carrier also stopped in the Philippines in February.

A U.S. Navy band will play a concert in Danang during the Vinson's visit, and sailors from the carrier are scheduled to spend time at a treatment center for people who were exposed to Agent Orange chemicals during the war. The vessel can carry up to 90 on-deck aircraft. The American government hopes to use its involvement with Vietnam and other countries to extract more favorable economic cooperation from Beijing, said a diplomatic source in Washington familiar with Japan-U.S. relations.

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The US has always said it does not take sides in the South China Sea dispute, but the US Navy has consistently run so-called "freedom of navigation" operations through disputed waters, a clear challenge to China's territorial ambitions. "The United States and Vietnam are cooperating more closely than ever before".

The former Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau was transferred to Vietnam previous year, becoming the largest ship in the nation's fleet.

Separately from this week's mission, US officials have said American warships would continue sailing without prior notice close to the China-occupied islands and atolls, an aggressive way of signaling to Beijing that it does not recognize its sovereignty over those areas.

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U.S. Navy cruiser the USS Lake Champlain in Tien Sa Port on March 3.


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