U.S. Defence Secretary, Mark Esper, on Wednesday said that Washington would support Vietnam amid ongoing tensions over disputed regions in the South China Sea by providing an extra coastguard vessel.
Esper made the statement during a conference at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.
“I am happy to announce that the U.S. will provide the Vietnam Coast Guard with a second high-endurance cutter military vessel in 2019,’’ he said.
Esper’s trip to Vietnam came on the heels of a day in the Philippines, where he said the U.S. 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 added that, in just about every conversation he had during his trip, there was one theme that consistently emerged.
“ The international, rules-based order that has enabled the security and prosperity of Indo-Pacific nations for decades is now under duress.
“ As a result, the sovereignty of proud and independent Indo-Pacific nations is being threatened.’’
He said that “what we are currently witnessing in the South China Sea is a prime example of how the economic rise of nearly every Asian nation, is yielding to a renewed style of Chinese conduct that infringes on the sovereign rights of other states.
“South-east Asian nations are increasingly being subjected to coercion and intimidation in ways that challenge the fundamental underpinnings of free and open, rules-based order.’’
Oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea is a highly fraught issue in both China and Vietnam, which saw a series of violent disputes between 1974 and 1988 over control of the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
In 2014, anti-Chinese sentiment boiled over in Vietnam and sparked deadly attacks against Chinese-owned factories and businesses after a Chinese drilling rig entered the disputed waters.
Most recently, tensions have soared between Beijing and Hanoi as Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 has repeatedly violated Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone while searching for oil and gas reserves.
Esper said the U.S. firmly opposes such actions and that the U.S. will continue to maintain a routine military presence in the South China Sea.
Edited by Hadiza Mohammed/Abdulfatah Babatunde