US warship arrives in Vietnam amid rising East Sea tensions

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Rear Admiral Thomas Carney is greeted by Vietnamese military officers in Tien Sa port, Vietnam, Sunday

The US Navy destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and the salvage ship USNS Salvor docked Sunday in the central Vietnamese port of Tien Sa, considered a strategic deep water harbor in the East Sea, where China is rapidly expanding its military, economic and civilian presence.

The deployment of the guided-missile USS Chung-Hoon comes at a time as China publicly flexes its naval muscle in the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea.

China and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei are embroiled in sovereignty disputes over the East Sea.

Rear Admiral Thomas Carney, Colonel Paul Schilse and US vice consul general Robert Ogburn attended a welcome ceremony at the Tien Sa port where representatives from the Da Nang People's Committee, the municipal government, greeted the US crews.

The Vietnamese representatives expressed their wish that the US visitors have a nice visit and their hopes that the cooperation between the Vietnamese and US navies would develop well.

Carney said he hoped Vietnam-US navy exchange visits would be successful.

This is the second deployment of USS Chung-Hoon to Vietnam. It made a port call to Tien Sa port in 2011 together with the destroyer USS Preble and salvage ship USS Safeguard.

The visit of the two US vessels is part of the 2013 cooperation program between the two navies.

Under the program, the two navies will focus on non-military activities, exchange expertise in controlling and maintaining equipment and vehicles, share information and experiences relating to humanitarian aid, natural disaster relief, dive training and underwater rescue and medical aid.

A US warship designed to fight in coastal areas also arrived last week in Singapore as part of a tour of Southeast Asia, a move analysts have said underlines Obama's new strategic focus on Asia.

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Since US President Barrack Obama announced a "pivot" toward the economically resilient Asia-Pacific region in late 2011, the US has maintained it will play a neutral role in the East Sea dispute.

But critics say the US "pivot" toward Asia in foreign and defense policy has already rattled the region and increased tensions between the two superpowers.

According to a white paper on national defense issued last week, China said it was uneasy with what the United States has called the "rebalancing" of forces as Washington winds down the war in Afghanistan and renews its attention further east.

China says the policy has emboldened Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in longstanding territorial disputes with Beijing, Reuters said.

China's Ministry of Defense said in its annual white paper that the country faces "multiple and complicated security threats," despite its growing influence, adding that current US strategy means "profound changes" for Asia.

Analysts say China is always cautious about any enhancement of the US military presence around the East Sea.

"The US military pivot towards Asia more generally, including for example, the deployment of combat ships to Singapore and increased US military exercises with regional navies only serve to add to China's threat perceptions," said Sam Bateman, a maritime security expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

"In many ways, China is faced with the classic security dilemma - its actions in response to its threat perceptions may only lead to increased threats," Bateman said.

In related news, Taiwan's coastguards said Monday that Taipei had staged a live-fire drill within a hotly-contested island chain in the East Sea, in a move that risks stoking regional tensions, AFP reported.

More than 2,000 rounds of ammunition were fired by garrison forces on Taiwan-administered Taiping, the largest of the Spratly Islands, Wang Chin-wang, chief of the Coast Guard Administration, told parliament.

It was Taipei's first live-fire drill in the Spratlys -- claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei -- since long-range mortars and artillery were shifted to Taiping Island in August last year, AFP said.

The exercise took place in the middle of the April, the newswire quoted Wang as saying.

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