DANANG, Vietnam — Former enemies Vietnam and the United States began a joint naval drill on Friday, despite Chinese objections after weeks of escalating tension in the disputed South China Sea.
US officials described the week-long exercises off Vietnam's central coast as "non-combatant events", focused on areas such as navigation and maintenance, in a statement from the consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City.
But China's top military officer General Chen Bingde said Monday that the timing of US naval exercises in the area was "inappropriate", after talks with his American counterpart Admiral Mike Mullen aimed at cooling the tensions.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan all have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits and home to shipping lanes vital to global trade.
Vietnam and the Philippines have in recent months accused Beijing of taking increasingly aggressive actions in staking its claims in the sea.
Tensions flared in May when Vietnam said Chinese marine surveillance vessels cut the exploration cables of an oil survey ship.
Since then, a series of anti-China protests have been held in Vietnam, where rallies are rare, with the latest on Sunday being forcibly dispersed by local police. At least 10 people, including journalists, were briefly arrested.
During talks on June 25, Beijing and Hanoi promised to resolve the issue peacefully, and China has warned Washington not to get involved in regional maritime disputes, according to state media.
The US and Vietnam, former wartime enemies, normalised relations in 1995 and have been rapidly building relations across a wide range of areas, including military affairs.
"This exchange helps our respective sailors gain a greater understanding of one another and builds important relationships between our navies for the future," Rear Admiral Tom Carney said of the latest drill.
The Philippine and US navies also recently held 11 days of military exercises close to the South China Sea, war games that have been seen as aimed at recent Chinese provocations.
Source : AFP