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Vietnam sends top general to Shangri-la; maritime dispute on agenda

By AFP, Reuters, Toan Dao   June 3, 2016 | 04:04 am PT
Vietnam's Vice Defense Minister Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh is attending Asia's largest annual security forum that opens today in Singapore with territorial disputes in the South China Sea (Vietnam's East Sea) on the agenda.

Vietnam's resolute and clear point of view about the East Sea will be presented at the Shangri-la Dialogue, which will take place from June 3-5, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Le Hai Binh said on June 2.

Senior Lieutenant General, Nguyen Chi Vinh. Photo by VnExpress/Nhat Quang

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh. Photo by VnExpress/Nhat Quang

The situation on the Korean Peninsula and Islamist extremism are also expected to dominate discussions at the forum, which will be attended by at least 20 defense ministers, according to AFP.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a former army chief who seized power two years ago, will open the dialogue with an evening keynote address.

U.S. to criticize China at the meeting

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is preparing to give a speech in Shangri-la which analysts believe will anger China, AFP reported.

U.S. officials have repeatedly accused China of causing regional tensions in Vietnam's East Sea, but Beijing has accused Washington of militarizing the area with its "freedom of navigation" patrols.

"There is much speculation about China's next steps in the South China Sea (Vietnam's East Sea)," forum organizer Tim Huxley of the International Institute for Strategic Studies wrote in a pre-conference blog.

"Particularly in the context of an apparently imminent ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on a Philippine submission that challenges important aspects of China's claims and activities there."

Influential U.S. Senator John McCain said on Friday he feared for the consequences if China rejected an impending U.N. court ruling on the South China Sea (Vietnam's East Sea) dispute, and urged Asian nations to back U.S. statements that the outcome should be binding, according to Reuters.

In a speech in Singapore ahead of the key regional security forum, McCain, who chairs the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee, said enforcement of the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague would be a major test for the region.

The Philippines has gone to the court to contest China's claim to an area of the sea stretching deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia, covering hundreds of disputed islands and reefs. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea. China refuses to recognize the case.

McCain urged China to shift from what he called coercion and intimidation of neighbors to co-operation.

"China can choose to disrupt the rules-based order. Or it can choose to become a vital partner in maintaining it," he said on the sidelines of the annual Shangri-la Dialogue.

"I fear the consequences if China chooses the path of disruption," McCain added, later saying it could force the wider region to cooperate more closely militarily and economically.

The Arizona senator urged Southeast Asian nations to restate their support for a rules-based order.

McCain said China "would be facing severe criticism from the world" if it opted to ignore the ruling of the court in The Hague, which is expected to rule in the coming weeks.

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