Vietnam seeks help to ease S. China Sea tensions

HANOI • France and other countries should help to keep the peace in the disputed South China Sea, Vietnam's President said yesterday, as unease grows over China's increasingly muscular approach in the key waterway.

China claims most of the sea where it has built up reefs capable of hosting military equipment, sparking ire from competing claimants, including Vietnam.

Speaking to AFP ahead of a visit by French leader Francois Hollande next month, Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang said he hopes France and others will help to defuse regional tensions in the waterway, which it calls the East Sea.

"We highly welcome the cooperation from France and other nations in the process of maintaining peace and stability in the region and the world and on the East Sea," he said.

Hanoi and Beijing have traded diplomatic barbs over disputed island chains and waters in the South China Sea and in 2014 China moved a controversial oil rig into contested territory, prompting riots in Vietnam.

The strategic waterway is also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Mr Quang's comments come after French Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in June he would ask European countries to conduct coordinated patrols in the South China Sea.

France and the United States have sent naval ships to the sea in recent months and have vowed to send more, angering Beijing.

The Vietnamese President, whose role is mostly ceremonial, said Mr Hollande's visit would help to boost military ties between the former colonial foes, as Hanoi has rapidly increased its defence bud- get in the last decade.

He added that Vietnam wants more unity in Asean, which has yet to forge a unified front against Beijing's militarisation in the sea.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Vietnam seeks help to ease S. China Sea tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe