US defense secretary in Vietnam for official visit

By Viet Anh   November 20, 2019 | 12:07 am PT
US defense secretary in Vietnam for official visit
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (L) shakes hands with Vietnam's Minister of National Defense Ngo Xuan Lich in Hanoi, November 20, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper began a three-day visit to Vietnam Tuesday as part of an Asia tour to boost defense cooperation.

During his stay in Hanoi, Esper will discuss with Vietnam's Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich and other Vietnamese leaders issues of regional security and ways to enhance bilateral defense ties.

Both countries expect to come up with specific programs and activities to boost their defense ties in line with the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership, Randall Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, said last month.

Vietnam and the U.S. have tightened defense cooperation in recent years.

The U.S. sent Vietnam a Hamilton-class patrol boat, a high endurance cutter named the USCGC Morgenthau, in 2017.

In April, the U.S. gave six rapid-response Metal Shark patrol boats to Vietnam Coast Guard Region 3 in the central region. This followed the delivery of six Metal Shark patrol boats in March last year when the USS Carl Vinson docked in Da Nang, the first to Vietnam by an American aircraft carrier since 1975.

Aircraft maker Boeing has been assigned to make six unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for Vietnam’s Coast Guard. The sale will be supported through U.S. Foreign Military Financing.

Esper began his Asia tour on November 13 and had visited South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines.

At a press meeting with his Filipino counterpart Delfin Lorenzana Tuesday, Esper said the U.S. has conducted "more freedom of navigation operations in the past year or so than we have in the past 20-plus years," referring to the operation of U.S. Navy ships close to China-claimed islands in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.

"The clear signal we’re trying to send is not that we oppose China per se but that we all stand for international rules, international laws," he said.

"We think China should abide by them as well and that acting collectively is the best way to send that message and to get China on the right path."

Several senior American officials have condemned China for sending oil survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 and escorts to Vietnam's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf and remaining there for three months between July and October.

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