WASHINGTON — Vietnam is calling on the United States to take a larger role in protecting the peace and settling conflicts in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
A foreign ministry spokesman in Hanoi, Le Hai Binh, said Friday, "We hope that the U.S. will have a stronger voice and make further practical acts to contribute to protecting maritime safety and security in the region and resolving the disputes there in accordance with international law.”
The Vietnamese call for more U.S. involvement comes as Vietnamese ships continue to clash with Chinese ships near a controversial oil rig that Beijing placed in disputed waters last month.
In an interview with VOA's Vietnamese service Friday, Captain Le Van Xinh, whose fishing vessel has ventured into the area near the oil rig, described a scene of escalating dangers to boats like his. He also called for dialogue between Hanoi and Beijing.
"We’d like to see the two countries, Vietnam and China, come up with peaceful resolutions through talks so that we, the fishermen, will be able to operate without fear within our own waters," said Le Van Xinh. "We’d like to ask Hanoi to try to protect our sovereignty so that we would be able to keep working on our traditional fishing areas to earn our living."
According to Vietnamese officials, Chinese ships have sunk one of its ships and damaged 24 others, as well as injured 12 members of its fisheries surveillance force. But China accuses Vietnamese ships of being the aggressors, saying they have rammed Chinese ships 120 times since early May.
The U.S. has said it does not take sides in the dispute and wants countries in the region to settle their differences peacefully.
At a recent military forum in Singapore, though, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said “China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea.”
Last year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the U.S. would provide about $18 million to help Vietnam patrol its territorial waters.
When asked recently about the prospect for further U.S. military support for Hanoi, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of Human Rights, Tom Malinowski said the relationship will improve as Vietnam's human rights record improves.
"Vietnam is a relatively small country with a very large neighbor. And Vietnam needs international law. It needs to be part of a community that is based on respect for a common set of rules that are broadly understood and broadly respected. And part of the bargain is that there are other rules and laws, including those that protect individuals," said Malinowski.
China's territorial claims in the South China Sea overlap with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.