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Three US ships in Vietnam for joint exercise


DANANG, VIETNAM (AP): Three US Navy ships were welcomed by former foe Vietnam for joint training, despite China's irritation following weeks of fiery exchanges between the communist neighbours over disputed areas of the South China Sea.

US and Vietnamese officials have stressed that the seven-day ship visit and naval training are part of routine exchanges planned long before tensions began flaring between China and Vietnam in late May. China has criticized the port call as inappropriate, saying it should have been rescheduled due to the ongoing squabble.

The US visit, however, did send a message that the Navy remains a formidable maritime force in the region and is determined to build stronger military ties with smaller Southeast Asian countries.

"We've had a presence in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea for 50 to 60 years, even going back before World War II," Rear Adm. Tom Carney, who's leading the naval exchange, told reporters Friday. "We will maintain a presence in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea as we have for decades, and we have no intention of departing from that kind of activity."

He spoke on the pier in central Danang, once home to a bustling US military base during the Vietnam War, in front of the diving and salvage ship USNS Safeguard. American and Vietnamese flags flapped in the steamy air from the ship, and two guided missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon and USS Preble were visible off the coast.

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