Vietnam, US to hold 5 day naval exchange

Vietnamese and US sailors shake hands during a US navy's visit to Vietnam last year.

HANOI - Vietnam and the US will hold five days of "non-combatant" naval exchange activities next week in the port city of Danang, the US Embassy said, amid rising tensions in the South China Sea.

The exercises "underscore the closer ties between the US and Vietnam", according a statement from the United States, which is increasingly seen as a counterweight to Beijing's growing naval assertiveness in the region.

The US 7th Fleet Flagship USS Blue Ridge, the guided missile destroyer USS Chafee and rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard will be in Danang port from April 23, according to the US Embassy statement released late Monday.

It said the trip "will focus on non-combatant events and skills exchanges in areas such as navigation and maintenance."

The exchange comes after a string of diplomatic skirmishes between China and Vietnam this year over islands in the South China Sea.

Hanoi and Beijing have rival claims to the Spratly Islands and a long-standing dispute over the Paracel island group.

China claims all of the South China Sea, which is believed to encompass huge oil and gas reserves and sees one-third of global seaborne trade passing through the region.

Several other Asian nations have competing claims over parts of the waters.

For decades, the rival claims have been a source of regional tensions, but over the past year the Philippines and Vietnam have accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in asserting its position.

On Tuesday, the Philippines said it had lodged a new diplomatic protest, accusing Chinese vessels of harassing a Filipino-flagged archaeological research ship at Scarborough Shoal.

The shoal is the same area where Chinese vessels last week blocked a Filipino warship from arresting the crews of eight Chinese fishing boats.

The South China Sea is a key trading route for the US, which has opposed China's attempts to settle conflicting claims bilaterally, repeatedly calling instead for the "peaceful resolution" of disputes.

In recent years, US ships have made regular port calls to Vietnam, most recently in July last year, despite objections from China.

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