U.S. Warship Docks in Vietnam Amid Growing Row With China on Disputed Sea
A U.S. warship docked in Vietnam today as part of weeklong naval exercises that highlight a more assertive American role in the region that has irked China.
The USS John S. McCain is visiting Danang to mark the 15- year anniversary of normalized relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, according to the Navy. Vietnamese officials made an offshore visit to the USS George Washington nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the South China Sea two days ago.
The exercises follow a diplomatic tiff between the U.S. and China after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on a regional territorial dispute in the sea, which China considers its own. Clinton said last month that resolving disputes was a “leading diplomatic priority,” and she offered to help countries negotiate a code of conduct in the waters.
“From Vietnam’s perspective, it’s wonderful to have the Seventh Fleet present, it increases stability,” said Ralf Emmers, a professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “What is at stake is really to try to ratify a code of conduct with China.”
China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called Clinton’s remark “virtually an attack on China.” Today a Chinese general said in an editorial that U.S. plans to bring the USS George Washington to the Yellow Sea, situated between China’s coast and the Korean peninsula, may provoke economic retaliation.
Exxon, BP Pressured
China has pressured Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP Plc to halt exploration in waters that Vietnam considers part of its territory, according to U.S. government agencies. Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said Aug. 5 that China had conducted seismic surveys of areas near the Paracel islands and encompassing its continental shelf.
The ministry “has made numerous representations with the Chinese side at different levels to expound its official views on these matters,” she said. “However, China is continuing those activities.”
On Aug. 6 China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and the sea around them.”
The USS John S. McCain is the second U.S. ship to visit a Vietnamese port this year, and two others received repairs at a shipyard in the country, according to the Seventh Fleet’s website. U.S. ships made two port visits to Vietnam in each of the past two years and a different aircraft carrier hosted Vietnamese guests offshore last year, it said.
“We share a common interest in maritime security in this region,” John S. McCain Commander Jeffrey Kim told reporters today in Danang after the ship docked. “I see our ties strengthened as we continue to develop our friendship in this region.”
The ship is named after the father and grandfather of U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former Republican presidential nominee.
McCain’s father and grandfather were both career Navy officers. The senator, a former Navy pilot, was shot down over Hanoi and imprisoned for six years in Vietnam.
The Southeast Asian nation “has become one of America’s most important and most promising emerging partners in the Asia- Pacific region,” the senator said in a statement from Washington. “Today’s port call is certainly rich with historical significance, especially for my family and me.”
China has bolstered its naval capabilities over the past decade, enhancing its ability to enforce territorial claims. Last year, Chinese fishing boats harassed two U.S. naval vessels in the South China Sea, where American forces have patrolled since World War II.
The South China Sea covers 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles) stretching from Singapore to the Straits of Taiwan. Its waters carry about half the world’s merchant fleet by tonnage each year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Estimates of oil and gas reserves in the waters vary, with some Chinese studies suggesting they contain more oil than Iran and more natural gas than Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. agency. Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan also claim some or all of the disputed islands.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is negotiating an agreement with China on a code of conduct in the sea to build on a 2002 accord that called for disputes to be resolved peacefully.
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