US gifts ship to Vietnam to boost patrols in disputed South China Sea
- US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said the gift reflected a strengthening of US-Vietnam ties
- He also vowed Washington would continue conducting freedom of navigation operations in the disputed waterway
Washington intends to counter Beijing’s expanding influence in the region and the fiercely contested South China Sea is a source of major tension.
“We will also maintain a routine military presence in the South China Sea, to demonstrate the seriousness of our commitment,” he said, adding that the US will “fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows”.
Esper and his Chinese counterpart met at a security summit in Bangkok on Monday.
In a briefing afterwards Wu Qian, a spokesman for Chinese Ministry of National Defence, urged the US to “stop military provocation in the South China Sea”.
The cutter vessel, which will be handed over next year, is the latest example of ramped up political and defence links between the US and Vietnam.
Earlier this year, Washington handed over six patrol boats and equipment worth US$12 million, the third of a planned four deliveries.
Security and trade ties between the former wartime foes deepened after Washington and Hanoi restored diplomatic ties in 1995.