Amid South China Sea tensions, US indicates support for Vietnam
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday indicated that Washington will support Vietnam amid ongoing tensions over disputed regions in the South China Sea.
Esper’s trip to Vietnam came on the heels of a day in the Philippines, where he said the United States would continue to conduct freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, despite being warned not to by China.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea as its territory and has built artificial islands with military-capable facilities over reefs and outcrops in the area, which are also claimed in part by Vietnam.
Esper did not directly name China in his comments in Vietnam, but made thinly veiled references.
“This system, which has benefitted the world for several decades, has come under duress, and state sovereignty has recently been challenged,” he said.
“But collectively, we must stand up against coercion and intimidation and protect the rights of all nations, big and small.”
Tensions have soared in recent months after Chinese oil-exploration ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 repeatedly entered Vietnamese waters.
After the welcome meeting, Esper will meet with Vietnam’s army general Ngo Xuan Lich.
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