HANOI, Vietnam -- Secretary of State John Kerry said U.S. military operations won't be deterred by China's air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, and there should be no moves to replicate the zone farther south.
China shouldn't take unilateral actions similar to one it did Nov. 23, when it declared the defense zone that covers areas claimed by neighbors Japan and South Korea, Mr. Kerry told reporters Monday during a visit to Hanoi. A U.S. Navy ship had a confrontation Dec. 5 with a Chinese military vessel in the South China Sea, where China has territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines.
"China's announcement will not affect U.S. military operations in the region," Mr. Kerry said, adding that the United States doesn't recognize the defense area across a swath of the East China Sea. "The zone should not be implemented, and China should refrain from taking similar unilateral actions elsewhere, particularly in the South China Sea."
Mr. Kerry's visit to Vietnam and the Philippines underscores the strategic importance of Southeast Asia as China becomes increasingly assertive in the air and seas off its coast. China has sought to defuse tensions in the South China Sea, agreeing to talks on a code of conduct for the waters.
"Peace and stability in the South China Sea is a top priority for us and for countries in the region," Mr. Kerry said after meeting with Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. "We are very concerned by, and strongly opposed to, coercive and aggressive tactics to advance territorial claims."
The United States will boost assistance for maritime patrols and disaster response in Southeast Asia, including $32.5 million to build capacity and $18 million to provide five fast patrol vessels in 2014 to the Vietnamese Coast Guard, Mr. Kerry said.
The U.S. Navy ship that had a confrontation with a Chinese military vessel in the South China Sea posed a threat to national security, China's Global Times newspaper said in an editorial. The U.S. vessel got close to China's Liaoning aircraft carrier, which was deployed last month to the South China Sea, the paper said.
"America is clearly right up against the front door of China," the Global Times said. "The American ship coming close to the Liaoning for reconnaissance is already not 'innocent passage' -- it is already a threat to China's national security."
In a call Dec. 15, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Mr. Kerry that he hopes the two countries will "deepen strategic trust and cooperation" and "properly handle issues of sensitivity and difference," according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Japan's chief Cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, on Monday continued verbal exchanges with China over the zone.