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Gates in Hanoi for Asian Defense Ministers' Meeting

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, is greeted by, from left, Sr. Col. Nguyen Hong Quang, Maj. Gen. Nguyen Huu Manh, and Second Lt. Nguyen Thang Anh as he deplanes a U.S. Military Aircraft as he arrives at the Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vi

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Vietnam for a regional defense ministers' meeting as China and its neighbors squabble over islands in the South China Sea.

The summit of defense ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations is expected to focus, in part, on ways to peacefully settle the disputes.

While in Hanoi, Gates also plans to hold his first meeting with his Chinese counterpart in more than a year.

VOA's Ira Mellman spoke with Frederick Brown, a former US Foreign Service offficer in Vietnam and now a research scholar at the School of International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington. He asked him what the United States would like to see from Vietnam as Defense secretary Gates visits Hanoi as China steps up its military might in the region:

China, Vietnam, and the Philippines are among the nations laying claim to island chains that are in prime fishing waters and thought to hold oil and gas reserves.

The Pentagon believes China is becoming more assertive in its claims on the islands. But Washington has said the disputes should be resolved peacefully under international law .

Washington and Beijing have started to resume military contacts, which China froze earlier this year because of U.S. plans to sell billions of dollars in weapons to Taiwan.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton angered China in July when she said resolving the dispute over the islands is in America's national interest. China called her remarks an "attack" against China and said only the claimants should be involved in resolving the matter.

Other issues expected to be brought up at the defense ministers' meeting include peacekeeping, search and rescue missions, disaster relief, and Americans still listed as missing in action from the Vietnam War.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.