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Vietnam holds live-fire drill amid China tensions


A file photo

HANOI (AFP): Vietnam put on a show of military strength in the tense South China Sea Monday, risking the ire of Beijing in the face of a deepening maritime rift with its powerful neighbour.

Relations between the communist nations have sunk to their lowest point in years following recent sea confrontations which reignited a long-standing dispute over sovereignty of two potentially oil-rich archipelagos.

A first barrage of live gunfire, lasting about four hours, took place about 40 kilometres off Quang Nam province in central Vietnam, said a naval officer based in the central city of Danang. He asked not to be named.

“Similar firing is planned this evening in the same place but the Vietnamese Navy will change the method of firing,” said the officer, who declined to say how many ships had been mobilised. He said no missiles were fired.

Although Vietnam's foreign ministry described it as routine annual training, analysts say the drill has raised temperatures in the South China Sea, where fast-growing Asian nations have conflicting claims over energy-rich waters.

The exercise “is designed to send China a message that Vietnam refuses to be pushed around,” said Ian Storey, a regional security analyst with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“I think the Chinese will react very badly to this,” he added.

The drills were inside the area Vietnam claims as its 200 nautical mile economic zone.

Hanoi last month accused Chinese surveillance vessels of cutting the exploration cables of an oil survey ship inside the area.

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