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US Defense Sec. Vows Vietnam Support   07/28 06:06

   

   HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is seeking to 
bolster ties with Vietnam, one of the Southeast Asian nations embroiled in a 
territorial rift with China, during a two-day visit starting Wednesday.

   In a speech in Singapore, his first stop in the region he is visiting for 
the first time as member of President Joe Biden's Cabinet, Austin said Tuesday 
he was committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, 
including stronger crisis communications with the People's Liberation Army.

   But he repeated that Beijing's claim to virtually the entire South China Sea 
"has no basis in international law" and "treads on the sovereignty of states in 
the region."

   He said the U.S. continues to support the region's coastal states in 
upholding their rights under international law, and remains committed to the 
defense treaty obligations the U.S. has with Japan and the Philippines.

   "Unfortunately, Beijing's unwillingness to resolve disputes peacefully and 
respect the rule of law isn't just occurring on the water," Austin said. "We 
have also seen aggression against India ... destabilizing military activity and 
other forms of coercion against the people of Taiwan ... and genocide and 
crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang."

   In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded to Austin.

   "The U.S. ignored the facts, deliberately smeared China, interfered in 
China's internal affairs and sowed discords among regional countries with the 
aim of serving its own geopolitical interest," Zhao said at a regular news 
briefing. "We admonish the U.S. side not to make an issue about China at every 
turn and do more for the benefit of peace and stability in the region."

   Austin is scheduled to meet his Vietnamese counterpart, Phan Van Giang, on 
Thursday morning. He leaves for the Philippines on Friday.

   Vietnam and the Philippines are among China's fiercest opponents in the 
territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where Beijing has ignored its 
neighbors' protests and has constructed several islands equipped with airstrips 
and military installations. Vietnam has previously accused China of obstructing 
its gas exploration activities off its southern shores.

   Austin's visit comes as Vietnam is in the grip of a coronavirus surge, with 
Hanoi and half of the country in lockdown.

   The U.S has donated 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, part of the 80 
million doses that Biden pledged to lower-income nations around the world.

 
 
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