* Vietnam says naval drills "routine"
* China, SE Asian neighbors trade accusations
* U.S. senator wants clear signal to China
(Adds U.S. senator's comments, paragraphs 13-16)
By John Ruwitch
HANOI, June 13 Vietnam's navy was due to hold
live-fire drills off the central coast Monday but a senior
naval source sought to downplay the exercises to avoid
exacerbating escalating tensions with China over territorial
disputes in the South China Sea.
China and Vietnam have hurled accusations at each other for
weeks over what each sees as intrusions into its territorial
waters by the other in a swath of ocean crossed by key shipping
lanes and thought to hold large deposits of oil and gas.
Such accusations are not uncommon between China, Vietnam
and the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, which are
also involved in long-standing maritime disputes in the South
China Sea, but this bout of tension has run longer than usual.
The senior navy source, who declined to be identified, said
the naval drills were "routine," pre-planned and not related to
the territorial disputes.
"We shouldn't pay too much attention to them so as to not
add to the tension. They're not aimed at confronting any
country," said the source, who declined to be identified. He
declined to confirm that the drills were under way.
An article in the Vietnamese newspaper People's Army on
Sunday blamed China for creating disputes "through provocative
actions, hostilities aimed at its neighbors and threats to the
interests of maritime navigation of other countries (that) will
not bring good results for China."
"Threatening to use force in the Eastern Sea runs counter
to the trend of peace and cooperation in the region and the
world and makes the environment in the region and the world
less stable," it said, using Vietnam's term for the South China
Factbox on the South China Sea [ID:nL3E7HC02G]
SE Asia wary of China as disputes intensify [ID:nL3E7HA1IZ]
Two sessions of live-fire naval drills were scheduled for
Monday in the sea off the coast near the town of Hoi An, a
popular tourist destination south of Danang.
The Vietnamese foreign ministry declined to comment on the
drills Monday, but described them last week as routine.
China's Global Times, a popular tabloid with a nationalist
bent run by Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said
the drills were "a military show of force to defy Beijing."
In Vietnam, the government has actively publicized two
incidents in recent weeks in which it says Chinese vessels
intentionally damaged gear in use by Vietnamese seismic survey
vessels in Vietnamese waters, including within Vietnam's 200
nautical mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone.
China has denied that its ships have done anything wrong.
In Washington, a key Democratic lawmaker on Asia policy
said he would introduce a U.S. Senate resolution urging China
to cease military actions and enter into multilateral talks on
maritime territorial disputes with its neighbors.
"We need to send a very clear signal to the Chinese," said
Senator Jim Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East
Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee.
"We need to do our part as a balancing force to bring these
issues to the table," he said in a speech at a think tank.
Washington must "back up what we said" last year, when
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed U.S. support for a
collective regional solution to the mosaic of territorial
disputes in the South China Sea, Webb added.
Computer hackers on both sides of the border have taken
matters into their own hands, according to media accounts,
posting pro-China or pro-Vietnam messages on scores of the
other country's websites, including some belonging to the
Monday, Hanoi publicized a June 10 directive from Prime
Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordering government agencies to
enhance their digital security and develop contingency plans in
the face of "serious threats."
The Philippines, which has also quarreled with China
recently over maritime territory, said Monday it would refer to
the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea from now on.
(Additional reporting by Tran Le Thuy in Hanoi, Paul Eckert in
Washington, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Manny Mogato in
Manila; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)