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Defence ministers arrive for meeting in Vietnam


HANOI, VIETNAM (AP): Defence ministers from across Asia and as far away as the United States began arriving in Vietnam's capital Sunday for a regional security meeting that follows a number of clashes on the high seas involving China.

The two-day meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations will also bring together US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chinese Gen Liang Guanglie for military talks, the first between the countries in eight months after China cut off contact to protest a US arms package for Taiwan.

The gathering, which starts Monday, comes a month after a spat between China and Japan involving a collision between a Chinese trawler and two Japanese patrol vessels off disputed islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.

Japan detained the Chinese boat captain, enraging Beijing. He was eventually released, and the two countries officially announced an end to the dispute last week, but each continues to claim the territory.

Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa planned to meet with his Chinese counterpart in Hanoi, according to Kyodo News agency, in what would be the first military-to-military talks since the incident.

Vietnam last week also accused China of detaining nine of its fishermen last month in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands that are claimed by both countries.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry has demanded that the sailors be released, but China says the boat owner must first pay a fine for fishing with explosives, the ministry said.

China claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, including the Paracel and Spratly islands, which are also claimed in whole or in part by Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

China has become more aggressive in asserting its sovereignty over the disputed areas, prompting US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to say in July that it was in the US national interest for the Communist giant to resolve territorial claims in the South China Sea with its neighbours.

The defense meeting brings together the ASEAN countries -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- along with counterparts from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.

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