The US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is expected to arrive in Vietnam at the end of July. A source familiar with maritime information from Vietnam said that the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan would arrive in Da Nang in five days, carrying 90 aircraft, including many of the F/A-18E Super Hornets and sophisticated missile systems. But in the middle of last week, the same source, informed again, that the USS Ronald Reagan had to cancel its visit to Da Nang. This is the second time, news about the journey of the US aircraft carrier has been delayed. For the first time, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which had planned to enter Da Nang two months ago (invitations have been delivered to guests and journalists) was also postponed. USS Ronald Reagan called at Changi military port in Singapore after 10 days of operation in the South China Sea. At that time, the aircraft carrier operated in the south of the South China Sea (Vietnam calls it the East Sea). Was its visit to Da Nang suspended or canceled? Just know, the US advance team that arrived in Da Nang earlier to prepare for the visit has also left this city.
The last visit of a US aircraft carrier was when the aircraft carrier USS Theodore and USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) arrived in Da Nang in March 2020. This is the second visit, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam, in the context of tension between Vietnam and China related to Vanguard Bank. In 2018, the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was the first US aircraft carrier to dock at Da Nang port after 1975. Before that, Vietnam often let American aircraft carriers dock offshore, officials visited these ships far offshore. At that time, analysts assessed, by welcoming the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier into the port of Da Nang, the country’s third largest city, and one of the closest places to the Hoang Sa (Paracel) clearly sent the strongest messages. What about this time? From now until the end of the year, will there be news for the third time, about another American aircraft carrier (also the third) that will come to Vietnam?
Right now, no one has given the correct answer. Because there has never been a clear explanation for the two postponements of the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Ronald Reagan. Still, according to anonymous sources, the fact that every two years, Vietnam will welcome an official visit by an American aircraft carrier is a periodical defense agreement. Initially, the US side wanted to have annual visits, but the Vietnamese side proposed to “separate” every two years. But as of now, it seems that every two years is also in trouble. On the second visit to Vietnam, on the USS Theodore, at that time, 5,000 members had to be tested for COVID-19 when they arrived at Da Nang Port. Currently, Vietnam is completely open to foreign tourists when the Government applies the policy of “living with COVID.” Thus, the postponement this time can rule out epidemiological causes.
On a larger scale
If we consider broader speculations at a time when the situation in the East Sea in particular and East Asia, in general, is entering a tense period, we can partially imagine the root cause of the delay. A US-China crisis is gradually emerging around the announcement that US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will visit Taiwan in August. On July 19, the Financial Times revealed that US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was planning to visit Taiwan in August after the visit scheduled for April was canceled due to Ms. Pelosi’s COVID-19 infection. Responding to the news, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on the same day that Beijing would respond with “strong and resolute measures.” Former editor-in-chief of the Global Times newspaper Hu Xijin repeatedly made threats on Weibo and Twitter about China’s potential reactions, including declaring a no-fly zone over Taiwan, deploying combat aircraft into Taiwan’s airspace, or “escorting” the plane carrying Ms. Pelosi.
Faced with the drastic attitude from China, on July 20, in response to questions from reporters, US President Joe Biden said that the US military assessed Ms. Pelosi’s visit as not a good idea at this time. Responding to Mr. Biden’s remarks, Ms. Pelosi did not confirm the visit to Taiwan but said that she had not spoken to Mr. Biden directly about the issue. “Perhaps the military is concerned that our plane may be shot down by China or something like that.” On July 21, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin continued to make tough statements about the visit. Different from Mr. Trieu Lap Kien’s two days earlier statement, this time Mr. Wang Wenbin increased his warning tone: “We will do what we say.” This is a new threat escalation in China’s warning. On July 22, CNN quoted a US official as saying that Biden administration officials were concerned that China might declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan before Pelosi’s visit.
However, also on July 20, To Tu Van, director of the Institute of Defense Strategy and Resources at the National Security Research Institute of Taiwan, told Epoch Times that the CCP had exaggerated the news of Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and misinterpreted the workings of a democratic country. What they call “gives the wrong signal about Taiwan’s independence” is a serious misunderstanding. For years, the United States has maintained “strategic ambiguity” meaning it did not say what position Washington would take in the face of Beijing’s attack on Taiwan. Although, there have been calls recently from US politics and the US Congress to adopt a “clear strategy” (i.e. the US clearly demonstrates a policy of responding when the CCP uses force to attack Taiwan). President Biden himself once said that if Taiwan is attacked by China, the US would help defend Taiwan. Some media speculated that it was “a mistake” and the US State Department also corrected and reiterated, that the policy of “strategic ambiguity” remained unchanged. However, analysts say that such a statement is a different story.
Vietnam is afraid of “lost bullets”
News of Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan broke out a day after China demanded that the US immediately stop the sale of a $108 million batch of weapons parts to the island. But no matter how tense Sino-Taiwan relations, how fierce the Sino-American war of words, Taiwan still raised the flag of independence and self-reliance and proved undaunted by the diplomatic attacks of China. Even last week, the Taiwan Foreign Service still welcomed the visit of the Atlantic Council (AC) Delegation. With the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine, the international community has become more alert, concerned, and attentive to the direct threat of authoritarianism that Taiwan faces. The three-member AC delegation from the US led by former US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper along with former Foreign Affairs Advisor to the Italian President Stefano Stefanini and AC Vice President Barry Pavel visited and worked in Taipei on July 18-21. During this visit, the delegation met with high-ranking officials of Taiwan’s cabinet and related ministries. At the same time, the delegation also had interactive exchanges with consulting organizations, think tanks, entrepreneurs, etc. to learn the latest developments in Taiwan and widely exchange views on the security situation, economy, and trade in the Indo-Pacific region. Notably, during the visit on this occasion, Mr. Esper assessed that the US policy towards Taiwan had become outdated. However, Esper did not say in which direction to change. According to international observers, whenever the US-China relationship is tense, Taiwan is not afraid, on the contrary, knows how to take advantage of those opportunities to purchase more modern weapons and technology from the US, and openly expressed confidence in the US position. No less than once, the Taiwan Foreign Service stated, that Taiwan and the United States have great trust in each other and have smooth communication channels.
However, in the next ten days, it is likely that President Biden will have a phone call with President Xi Jinping. The outcome of this conversation could further determine the temperature of future wars of words. Mr. Biden seems to want to “cool down” the current war of words. In a big country like the United States that the President sometimes has to “play” with China. The President did not disclose his position on the news related to Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. He blamed the “military class” while both the executive and the legislature were “poisoning” the Taiwan issue. From there, one can sympathize with Vietnam, with its “on the anvil under the hammer“, at the same time also afraid of “lost bullets“, so it avoided welcoming the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier battle group into Da Nang Port. However, the US Secretary of State’s cancellation of a planned visit to Vietnam (July 9-10), now adding “USS Ronald Reagan“, the Vietnam-US relationship will stagnate until when?