US, Vietnam warn against 'threat or use of force' in South China Sea

Agence France-Presse
US, Vietnam warn against 'threat or use of force' in South China Sea
This photo taken on Aug. 22, 2023 from the deck of Philippine coast guard ship BRP Cabra shows a Chinese coast guard ship (R) shadowing a civilian boat (C) chartered by the Philippine navy to deliver supplies to Philippine navy ship BRP Sierra Madre in Second Thomas Shoal, known in the disputed South China Sea. A team of AFP journalists on board the BRP Cabra, one of the two Philippine Coast Guard escort boats, watched as one of the Chinese ships came within several meters of the vessel. AFP was one of three media outlets given the rare opportunity to join the Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal, less than three weeks after Chinese coast guard ships water cannoned a similar replenishment operation.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

HANOI, Vietnam  — The United States and Vietnam warned on Monday against the "threat or use of force" in the disputed South China Sea, days after the latest clash involving Chinese vessels.

President Joe Biden and Vietnam's Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong said the competing claims on the strategic waterway must be settled under international norms.

Beijing claims almost the entire sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, and has ignored an international court ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

"The leaders underscored their unwavering support for the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, without the threat or use of force," Biden and Trong said in a joint statement. 

They also called for "freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea".

The statement came a day after Biden and Trong struck a deal to deepen cooperation, widely seen as a way to counter China's growing assertiveness in the region.

Washington is at loggerheads with Beijing on a range of issues including trade, security, human rights and climate change and is looking to boost its network of allies to counter Chinese influence.

Vietnam, which fought a war with China between 1979 and 1988, is wary of its giant northern neighbor, and is one of a handful of countries with claims on the many islets and outcrops that dot the South China Sea.

Last week, the Philippines accused Chinese Coast Guard and "militia" boats of harassing two of its own coast guard vessels as they took supplies to Filipino troops on the Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippine Navy deliberately grounded an old ship on the shoal in 1999 to check China's advance in the waters.

China deploys hundreds of vessels to patrol the South China Sea and swarm reefs. 

The Philippines, a longtime US ally, has outposts on nine reefs and islands in the Spratly Islands -- which Vietnam also claims along with the Paracel Islands.

Manila says Chinese coast guard and navy ships routinely block or shadow Philippine boats in the contested waters.

Tensions between Manila and Beijing flared last month when China Coast Guard vessels used water cannon against a Philippine resupply mission to the reef, preventing one of the boats from delivering its cargo.

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