China confronted Indian warship in the Spratlys' West Philippines Sea

Class and type: Shardul class landing ship | Displacement: 5,650 tons | Length: 125 m | Beam: 17.5 m | Draft: 4 m | Propulsion: Kirloskar PA6 STC engines | Speed: 16 knots | Capacity: 11 MBT | 10 infantry trucks or APC | 500 troops | Complement: 11 officers, 145 sailors | Electronic warfare and decoys: Chaff launchers | Armament: 2 x WM-18 rocket launchers | 4 x CRN-91 AA (Naval 30mm Medak) guns, MANPAD's | shoulder-launched IGLA SAMs | Aircraft carried: 1 Westland Sea King or HAL Dhruv |

A Chinese warship confronted an Indian naval vessel in waters off Vietnam and demanded its identity, the Financial Times said on Thursday, amid regional concern over Beijing's maritime assertiveness.

The London-based newspaper reported that five people familiar with the incident said it occurred in international waters shortly after India's amphibious assault ship INS Airavat completed a scheduled port call in Vietnam.

Delhi confirmed contact was made with its ship, but rejected the suggestion of a "confrontation".

On July 22 after sailing 45 nautical miles off Nha Trang, the INS Airavat was called on an open radio channel by someone identifying himself as the "Chinese Navy", the Indian government said in a statement.

"You are entering Chinese waters," the radio caller said, according to the statement. It added that no ship or aircraft was visible from the Indian vessel, which proceeded as scheduled.

"India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and the rights of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law. These principles should be respected by all," Delhi said.

A series of Chinese actions in the South China Sea have caused nervousness among regional neighbors -- particularly Vietnam and the Philippines.

China says it has sovereignty over essentially all of the South China Sea, a key global trading route, where its professed ownership of the potentially oil-rich Spratly archipelago overlaps with claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

Vietnam and China have a separate long-standing dispute over the more northerly Paracels archipelago.

The INS Airavat visited Nha Trang in south-central Vietnam and the northern port of Haiphong in the second half of July.

Vietnam's foreign ministry said it had no information about the incident, while China's foreign ministry spokesman said he had queried the defense ministry but had not yet received a response.

A source familiar with the incident told AFP it was "a typical Chinese approach", adding that Beijing's enforcement vessels try to assert "that this is their territory and what are you doing in their territory?".

In recent months, the Philippines and Vietnam have objected to what they said was Chinese harassment of oil exploration vessels and fishermen in the South China Sea.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July condemned acts of "intimidation" in the waters, where it says it has a national interest in free navigation.

A Pentagon report on Wednesday last week said China is increasingly focused on naval power, as it places a growing priority on securing strategic shipping lanes and mineral-rich areas in the South China Sea.

Chinese leaders have insisted their military modernization program is aimed solely at "self-defense".

China, Vietnam plan defense hotline

China and Vietnam plan to set up a defense hotline as part of closer military links, official media reported on Wednesday, in the latest effort to publicly ease tensions after a maritime dispute.

The two sides "agreed to promote bilateral defense cooperation" at their second annual security dialogue held in Beijing, the English-language Vietnam News reported after the weekend talks.

The newspaper said China and Vietnam would expand ties to "new fields", among them the exchange of military delegations, including military students, as well as establishing the hotline between their defense ministries.

It did not elaborate on whether the line would be for the ministers themselves.

A few years ago, the communist party secretary-generals of Vietnam and China also established a hotline.

And in 2009, the foreign ministries signed an agreement to create a similar link between the neighbors’ "leaders", although its status is unclear.

In the latest talks, involving Vietnam's deputy defense minister and China's deputy chief of general staff, Beijing said it would share experiences in United Nations peacekeeping, Vietnam News reported.

Hanoi has not yet contributed to UN missions but has expressed interest to do so.

The neighbors have a long-standing dispute over sovereignty of the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly island groups, which straddle vital commercial shipping lanes in the South China Sea.

Relations sank to their lowest point in years in May and June when Vietnam said Chinese vessels twice interfered with its oil survey ships inside the country's exclusive economic zone.

Both countries then staged naval drills, and Vietnamese citizens took to the streets in a series of unprecedented demonstrations objecting to the Chinese "invasion", although recently Hanoi ordered an end to the rallies.

Vietnamese bitterly recall 1,000 years of Chinese occupation and routinely express dislike of China.

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