Vietnam, US officials concur on East Sea dispute resolution

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Top defense officials from Vietnam and the US say they are agreed that territorial disputes in the East Sea need to be resolved peacefully under international law.

At the Shangri-La security conference held in Singapore from June 4-6, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the disputes in the East Sea were of "growing concern."

AFP reported on June 7 that Gates alluded to China's alleged threats against some US oil and gas companies interested in offshore exploration in waters claimed by Vietnam.

"We object to any effort to intimidate US corporations or those of any nation engaged in legitimate economic activity. Our policy is clear: it is essential that stability, freedom of navigation, and free and unhindered economic development be maintained," he said.

Gates said the United States would not take sides in the disputes and called for all countries to resolve territorial disagreements through peaceful means under international law.

During a press briefing in Hanoi on June 7, Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of the US Pacific Fleet who had accompanied Gates to the Shangri-La dialogue, also told reporters that the US opposes any resort to non-peaceful measures or disrespect for international law in the East Sea.

He emphasized that freedom of navigation in the East Sea continues to be a vital American interest, adding that US trade with countries in the East Sea region has reached $1.3 trillion per year.

"What's essential is that differences be resolved multilaterally," he said, adding that the ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) offers an appropriate framework.

Speaking at a press briefing in Binh Dinh Province where the US Naval Hospital Ship Mercy was on a charity mission, Willard reaffirmed US concerns over the East Sea: "The [East Sea] and the Asia Pacific region is an area where security challenges are always foremost on our minds, and yet we've succeeded in maintaining a decent stability for many years. We look forward to [this] continuing."

Asked about future of military ties between Vietnam and the US, Willard said: "there's no question that it will be advanced. We talked about a dozen or so areas of common interest where we'll continue to work together to advance it."

Friendship choice

Vietnamese Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh, who attended the Shangri-La security forum, said the US and other countries including China wanted a peaceful solution to East Sea disputes and that is also what Vietnam was seeking.

"China has claimed not to be hegemonic and that it would always work for a harmonious region and world, maintaining peace and stability for development. I think the claims are in line with common interests of other countries in the region," he said.

Thanh also said Vietnam is taking steps to peacefully resolve territorial disputes in areas of the East Sea and seeking dialogue with involved countries for this purpose.

"Currently we are, step-by-step, undertaking dialogue with the countries concerned to address matters of dispute. We would undertake negotiations in the spirit of good-neighborliness, friendship, cooperation and brotherhood," he said.

Vietnam and China recently reached a "good solution" to demarcate their land borders, Thanh said. The two countries have also agreed to joint sea patrols in the Gulf of Tonkin, he noted.

"We still have disputes but we must solve them completely in line with international law," he said, adding that the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus will be a good forum for negotiations to solve East Sea disputes and nontraditional security challenges.

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