U.S. offers new assistance to Vietnam to patrol seas
HANOI Dec 16 (Reuters) - The United States on Monday offered fresh financial assistance to Vietnam to boost maritime security on its borders, which comes as regional tension grows with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
On his first visit to Vietnam as secretary of state, John Kerry said the United States intended to provide up to $18 million in new assistance to Vietnam "to enhance the capacity of coastal patrol units to deploy rapidly for search and rescue, disaster response, and other activities".
Kerry said the funding would also be used to buy five "fast" patrol boats for Vietnam's coastguard in 2014.
Kerry made the announcement following talks in the capital, Hanoi, with the leaders of the communist country.
The United States will also expand its support for regional cooperation by strengthening information sharing among national agencies in South East Asia charged with maritime security and law enforcement, Kerry added.
China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, overlapping in different places with claims made by Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The United States has said it is neutral in the dispute - centred on China's historic claim of waters deep in the maritime heart of Southeast Asia - but is determined to preserve peace and ensure that sea-lanes vital for the world economy are not hindered.
China also has disputes with Japan and South Korea over different sets of tiny islands. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)
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