The calling card was an indispensable weapon of etiquette back in 18th-century Europe, and as such quickly came to these shores for the aristocracy to enjoy. And to give the servantry another set of rules to memorize. Did the card come in an envelope? (Pity.) Did it have an upturned corner? (Oh my!)
These days, America has a kind of calling card. One in particular displaces 100,000 tons.
The USS Carl Vinson made a port call in Vietnam on Monday, anchored off Danang. No word if a carte de visite announced its arrival. It was the first time a United States aircraft carrier had visited a Vietnam port since the war there ended in 1975. And it's no coincidence that the U.S. military and the Vietnam government are shaking hands and smiling for the cameras just now. The government on mainland China is pushing its neighbors, and some of them have the audacity to push back.
Yes, there was a damnable war in Vietnam recently. Which, if you're American, means the 1960s and early 1970s. But "recently" to a new country like this one and "recently" to the Asians can mean vastly different things. While the Vietnamese certainly remember what they call The American War, they also remember the millennium they spent fighting the Chinese. Not to mention the skirmishes with Beijing since Nixon, Ho and Mao left the world stage.
It's said that nations don't have friends, only interests. Well, it's in the American interests, and the Vietnamese interest, to stand together just now. Let's remember that the Giant Panda is a bear.
Danang is close to all those islands that Beijing has been creating in the South China Sea. That particular piece of ocean is considered one of the world's busiest for shipping lanes. And the Red Chinese have begun what they call "reclamation projects" there. That is, building up reefs and small islands with enough rock to form acres-long landing strips and military bases.
And when these bases are complete, China absurdly suggests its sovereignty extends to them and beyond. Which is why American ships--such as the USS Carl Vinson--have a habit of coasting by without permission. Just to show Beijing that the world won't sit by and allow China to "reclaim" the Pacific's shipping routes.
The government in Vietnam--you may call it The Party--knows this. And appreciates the U.S. Navy. Which is why the visit. Dispatches say sailors on the USS Carl Vinson will play basketball and soccer with the locals. And no doubt bring back stories of Danang, which has turned itself into a tourist destination in the last four decades.
Clever people, these Vietnamese. They don't go out of their way to poke their neighbors to the north. But enough, it appears, has been enough.
"It was a U.S. initiative to request the carrier visit," Carl Thayer, a Vietnam scholar, told NPR. "It was mentioned in a presidential statement [by President Trump]. And Vietnam has taken a deep breath and decided that it's worth the risk to bring an American carrier there because of China's unrelenting militarization."
So, although the Vietnamese state-controlled media isn't making a big deal out of it, the Chinese will notice:
"The USS Carl Vinson is the mightiest warship afloat," Mr. Thayer says. "It brings along with it escort ships with more firepower than China can assemble in all of its seven artificial islands or even [its] South Sea Fleet, basically. So it's a massive display of military might."
Speaking of military might, the press caught up with an 88-year-old retired general from North Vietnam named Nguyen Duc Huy, who fought the French first, then the Americans, then the Cambodians, and twice the Chinese. His take on the aircraft carrier in Danang:
"We welcome the visit of such a mighty show of force by a friend. A show of force that's also a warning to China."
He adds: "Please remember. The Vietnamese people have thousands of years' experience fighting against the Chinese. What's going on now, isn't new."
Well, it may be new to the breed we call American. Which is why so much fuss among the easily excitable and the press. But we repeat ourselves.
The Party is still The Party, and the government running Vietnam is still a Communist one. So we weren't really surprised to see this in an Associated Press article the other day:
The reporter quoted a "taxi driver" on the streets of Danang, who was in complete agreement with his government, naturally: "I'm very happy and excited with the carrier's visit. Increased cooperation between the two countries in economic, diplomatic and military areas would serve as a counterbalance to Beijing's expansionism."
Sounds like every taxi driver we've ever heard.
No matter. Whether he was coached or just moonlights as a PR hack for his country's state department, the fact remains: Red China needs a counterbalance in that part of the world, and the United States is the only country with a big enough blue-water navy to provide it.
Best friends? Probably not yet.
Best interests? No doubt.
Editorial on 03/08/2018
Print Headline: Good morning, Vietnam