Senator Jim Webb is on a five-country tour of Southeast Asia. In Burma on Sunday, Webb won the release of an American imprisoned for visiting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. On Wednesday Webb came to Vietnam, where he said the U.S. should do more to "balance" China in the region.

Senator Jim Webb was in Vietnam Wednesday on a two-day visit to bolster the U.S.'s growing ties with the Communist country.

Vietnamese are worried about China's recent claims to sovereignty over 80 percent of the South China Sea. Vietnam and five other Southeast Asian countries dispute the Chinese claims. And Webb said the U.S. should be on their side.

"The United States should be much more specific in terms of defending the sovereignty of these areas," said Webb. "And I don't necessarily mean that militarily, I mean it in terms of our diplomatic position, our position as a nation, and our willingness to be a balancing force against, not against, but a balancing force with China in the region."

Webb served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and his wife is Vietnamese-American. He has long advocated closer U.S.-Vietnam ties, and in July he chaired a Senate hearing on the South China Sea territorial dispute. During his visit, several Vietnamese government newspapers have run articles denouncing the Chinese territorial claims.

Webb's visit is also part of a broader diplomatic effort by the U.S. to rebuild ties to Southeast Asia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made two visits to the region so far this year.

"There are good feelings from the American people towards this region," said Webb. "But we are trying to re-emphasize, and Secretary Clinton also is trying to re-emphasize, how vitally important this region is to the United States."

Vietnam has recently jailed several bloggers and political dissidents. Webb said he did not plan to raise that issue with Vietnamese leaders on this trip.