SINGAPORE – Vietnam expects to take delivery of coast guard ships from Japan early next year, the communist country’s vice defense minister said Sunday, as Hanoi looks to boost its defenses amid a territorial row with Beijing in the South China Sea.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that Tokyo would provide Southeast Asian nations its “utmost support” in their territorial disputes in the South China Sea, in a speech that received a hostile response from China.
In the area, scores of Vietnamese and Chinese ships, including coast guard vessels, have continued to square off around a Chinese oil rig in contested waters.
Tensions heightened last week when Hanoi said a Chinese boat rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel not far from the oil rig. China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported the vessel capsized after “harassing and colliding with” a Chinese fishing boat.
Vietnam Vice Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh said Sunday that Japan — itself locked in a bitter territorial spat with China over the Senkaku Islands and with South Korea over two forlorn outcroppings — was helping it to train its coast guard and share information with its teams, as well as sending some of its vessels.
“The process is developing very well and we are planning to receive the ships by early next year,” Vinh said in an interview on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s biggest security forum.
Abe had told the Diet Wednesday that Japan was unable to immediately provide decommissioned patrol ships to Vietnam as its own coast guard was being stretched by the extended surveillance activities.
Patrol ships from China and Japan have been playing cat and mouse in waters near disputed East China Sea islets, raising fears of an accidental clash between the world’s second- and third-largest economies.
Vinh said that while he welcomed the support of Japan and the United States he believed other nations could be more vocal about China’s actions in the South China Sea.
“I have the feeling that every country, whether they publicly state it or not, realizes the wrongdoing of China and does not agree with what they are doing,” he said. “I feel that other countries must raise their voices stronger, in a more public way.”
Some Southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia have remained wary of speaking out against China for fear of damaging deep-rooted economic ties.
The U.S. and China squared off at the security forum in Singapore on Saturday, with the U.S. defense secretary accusing Beijing of destabilizing the region and a top Chinese general retorting that his comments were a “threat and intimidation”.
Vinh said he met with Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army, who stuck to China’s “previously stated perspective”.
“I told their deputy chief of general staff that Vietnam never wants to have tension with China,” he said.
“We do not want to fight to get a winner or loser with them, what we want is peace and territorial sovereignty and integrity.”
Latest Senkaku visit
Two Chinese coast guard ships steamed through Japanese waters off the Senkaku Islands on Saturday as the United States warned China about its increasing regional assertiveness, officials said.
The Japan Coast Guard said the vessels entered the 12-nautical-mile band of territorial waters around one of the islets, which Japan controls but China and Taiwan also claim, at around 10 a.m. in the East China Sea. The two ships departed about three hours later, it said.
China confirmed that two of its coast guard vessels had “patrolled” the area around the disputed islets, which it calls Diaoyu and Taiwan calls Tiaoyutai, on Saturday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Chinese vessels and aircraft have been intruding into Japanese waters and air space around the Senkakus since Japan nationalized three of the uninhabited islets in September 2012, reigniting a long-simmering sovereignty dispute.
Saturday’s incursion was the first since May 2 but the 12th this year.
China is also locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety. Vietnamese and Chinese vessels have been hosing, ramming and harassing each other since Beijing sent an oil rig into one of the disputed areas recently, and in 2012 the Philippines lost control of rich fishing grounds after a tense standoff with China.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are among claimants to parts of the East and South China seas, with Manila and Hanoi being the most vocal in opposing Beijing’s claims.