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TOKYO (Reuters) - Vietnam agreed with Japan on Tuesday to step up security cooperation, becoming the latest Southeast Asian country to seek closer ties with Tokyo as China maintains an assertive posture in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
The agreement between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Vietnam's Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong comes after a U.S. expert said on Monday China appeared to be carrying out preparatory work for a third airstrip in contested territory in the South China Sea. [ID: nL1N11K26F]
China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea. It is also embroiled in a row with Japan over a group of East China Sea islets.
Earlier this year, Japan reached an agreement with Malaysia and the Philippines to strengthen security ties.
"I find it highly meaningful that we have shared serious concerns over the continuation of unilateral behaviors that change the status quo and escalate tensions, such as large-scale reclamation and building of outposts in the South China Sea," Abe told a joint news conference, without naming China.
Japan also agreed to provide more used ships to Vietnam, in addition to six it already supplies to help with maritime patrols.
"We shared understanding that all the disputes should be resolved through peaceful means, using international law including the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea," Trong said through an interpreter.
On the economic front, Japan decided to extend 28.6 billion yen ($239 million) in official development assistance (ODA) to Vietnam for building a general hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.
Tokyo also plans to provide Hanoi with further ODA of about 100 billion yen for transport infrastructure, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
($1 = 119.7200 yen)
Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Mark Trevelyan