March 4 (UPI) -- A United States aircraft carrier will make a port call in Vietnam for the first time since the end of the Vietnam War on Monday.
During the four-day port call, U.S. sailors will play basketball and soccer with Vietnamese counterparts in addition to visiting an orphanage and a center for victims of Agent Orange, the toxic chemical compound used by the US during the conflict to destroy jungle and forest.
"It's a pretty big and historic step, since a carrier has not been here for 40 years," Rear Adm. John V. Fuller, commander of the Carl Vinson strike group, told the New York Times. " We hope to continue the same issue that we've always had and that's to promote security, stability and prosperity in the region."
The Carl Vinson has spent the past month deployed in the South China Sea where six governments, including Vietnam and China, hold competing claims over various features of the maritime region.
Its visit to Vietnam comes amid concerns in the capital about China's efforts to militarize disputed islands, which received support from fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in January.
"Hanoi's agreement to the aircraft carrier visit demonstrates Vietnam's anxiety about what China will do next in the South China Sea," Murray Hiebert of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said to The New York Times. "The U.S. is virtually the last man standing to which Hanoi can look for support in the South China Sea dispute."
The United States holds no claims to the South China Sea, but has regularly deployed military vessels and planes near Chinese-controlled islands in the area with the goal of fostering economic growth that has occurred in the region since the end of World War II.
"It's a stable environment where you have the ability to actually foment economic growth," Fuller said. "I think we've helped create the environment that has allowed for the 70 years of growth."