The US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson has made a historic port call in Vietnam as if to challenge the growing regional influence of China. This is the first time a US Navy's supercarrier is visiting Vietnam in nearly four decades since the war between the former rivals ended.

The warship is anchored just two nautical miles off Danang, a port city with high historical significance where American troops first landed for war. Two other US vessels are accompanying Vinson for the five-day visit in what has been described as a "routine" sailing.

Vinson is also carrying about 6,000 crew members in what has been termed as an opportunity to improve relations between the forces of the two sides. The high-profile symbolism of the US attempting to check China's power in the region is not lost among analysts.

"Vietnam has been deeply concerned about China's pugilistic and aggressive moves in the South China Sea. They are worried about where China is going, and they have wanted for years now to have a better relationship with the United States," John Kirby, a retired US Navy rear admiral, told CNN.

China lays claim to almost the entire energy-rich and strategically-important South China Sea, but several other nations such as Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims. In particular, Vietnam claims the Paracel and Spratly islands, where China have been stepping up its military assertions in the past years.

Washington routinely deploys its vessels in the sensitive South China Sea waters under its "freedom of navigation" manoeuvres, angering Beijing. Sometimes, China also dispatches vessels or scrambles jet to monitor the movement of American vessels.

"The United States is here to maintain rules, laws and norms, and we'll do that in South China Sea. We'll do that wherever international laws allow us to operate," said Admiral John Fuller, Commander of Carrier Strike Group 1.

US aircraft carrier in Vietnam
US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrives at a port in Danang, Vietnam Nguyen Huy Kham/Reuters