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Vietnam calls for peace, stability as US warship enters flashpoint waters

Vietnam calls for peace, stability as US warship enters flashpoint waters
Guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur operates in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, on Friday. Photo by Diana Quinlan/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

Vietnam has said it respects other countries’ freedom of navigation in the East Sea, known internationally as the South China Sea, and calling for all to contributing to maintaining peace and stability in the region.

The remarks came as a U.S. navy destroyer sailed through the waters on Friday. The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur came near Tri Ton and Phu Lam islands of the Paracels archipelago, which Vietnam calls Hoang Sa, on Saturday. It reportedly did not enter the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit of the islands.

Le Hai Binh, Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement on Monday that as a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, “Vietnam respects other nations’ exercise of their rights in the sea in accordance with the convention’s regulations, including the freedom of navigation and overflight.”

“Vietnam calls on all countries to make constructive contributions in line with international law to maintaining peace, stability and the rule of law at sea and in the ocean,” he said in the statement.

He said Vietnam has full historical evidence and legal foundations to prove its sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratly (Truong Sa) Islands in the East Sea.

Last week, Vietnam’s Vice Minister of National Defense Nguyen Chi Vinh reassured Cara Abercrombie, the visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, that Hanoi would support Washington’s “engagement” in the Asia-Pacific as long as it brought peace, stability and prosperity.

China has claimed both the islands and put up a lot of construction there, despite strong international opposition. A tribune in the Hague on July 12 ruled that Beijing has no legal basis to claim historic rights to the strategic and resources-rich East Sea.

Chinese Defense Ministry has criticized the U.S.’s move as “illegal” and “provocative,” saying the two Chinese warships had told the U.S. destroyer to leave.

The Pentagon said the Decatur “conducted this transit in a routine, lawful manner without ship escorts and without incident.”

“This operation demonstrated that coastal states may not unlawfully restrict the navigation rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise under international law,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing, as reported by Reuters.

It’s the fourth time over the past year the U.S. has sailed a ship to the East Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.