The U.S. has accused China of “coercion” of Vietnam as it seeks to exploit oil and gas in the South China Sea, siding with Hanoi and chastising Beijing in sharp terms over its decision to send Chinese ships to Vietnamese territorial waters.

The U.S. state department said China’s recent dispatch of a government-owned geological survey vessel and armed escort vessels into Vietnam’s offshore exclusive economic zone was “an escalation by Beijing in its efforts to intimidate other claimants out of developing resources in the South China Sea.”

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