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U.S. transfers boats to Vietnam for South China Sea patrol

By
Elizabeth Shim
Vietnam is increasing its maritime security capabilities after receiving a transfer of six Metal Shark patrol boats from the United States. File Photo by EPA/STR
Vietnam is increasing its maritime security capabilities after receiving a transfer of six Metal Shark patrol boats from the United States. File Photo by EPA/STR

May 23 (UPI) -- The United States is supplying Vietnam with six Metal Shark patrol boats, a week ahead of a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and the Vietnamese prime minister.

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius officially handed over the 45-foot patrol boats that could be used in the country's maritime law enforcement, search and humanitarian assistance operations, according to the U.S. embassy in Hanoi.

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"Vietnam's future prosperity depends upon a stable and peaceful maritime environment. The United States and the rest of the international community also benefit from regional stability, which is why we are here today, and it is why we are very pleased to be working together with the Vietnam Coast Guard," Osius said Tuesday.

The two countries have worked together on building maritime security capabilities since 2011, and both countries have criticized China's island-building activities in the South China Sea.

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The White House said in 2016 Washington has provided more than $45.7 million since 2014 for Vietnam to build its maritime security capabilities.

But uncertainty prevails in Southeast Asia since Trump assumed office in January.

Key aspects of U.S. Asia policy have shifted priorities since that time, according to analysts, and the number of patrol boats the United States was considering in 2016 was 18, not 6.

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Under the Obama administration, the United States assisted Southeast Asian nations like Vietnam to defend against Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.

But some analysts have said Trump has stepped back from confronting China and its buildup on disputed islands, because he seeks Beijing's help in restraining North Korea.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc will be the first Southeast Asian leader to visit the White House next week, and the meeting will likely involve a search for answers about the direction of U.S. policy, Voice of America reported.

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China continues to send coast guard vessels into the exclusive economic zones of countries like Vietnam, but is also working to arrive at an agreement on a code of conduct, according to the report.

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