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Esper:China Intimidating Asian Nations 11/20 06:26

   HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday 
accused China of using coercion and intimidation against smaller Asian nations 
to impose its will in the South China Sea. He urged Vietnam and others in the 
region to push back.

   "We will not accept attempts to assert unlawful maritime claims at the 
expense of law-abiding nations," Esper said in a speech to the Diplomatic 
Academy of Vietnam, a government university.

   Vietnam is one of the region's most vocal critics of China's sweeping 
territorial claims in the South China Sea and has accused Beijing of 
encroaching into its waters.

   "The United States firmly opposes intimidation by any claimant to assert its 
territorial or maritime claims, and we call for an end to the bullying and 
unlawful activities," Esper said.

   Later, in remarks at Vietnam's Communist Party headquarters, Esper said, "We 
strongly oppose violations of international law by China and excessive claims 
in the South China Sea."

   As part of a long-term effort to forge closer relations with Vietnam, Esper 
announced that the U.S. will provide Vietnam's coast guard with a surplus 
American ship. He said it would be provided next year, but he gave no details 
on payment or exact timing.

   Esper met with several top government officials and paid a visit to the 
city's Hoa Lo prison, dubbed the "Hanoi Hilton" by American servicemen held 
there during the Vietnam War. The late Sen. John McCain was held there after he 
was shot down in his Navy jet over Hanoi in 1967.


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