Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday the United States would give $32.5 million to countries in Southeast Asia to help increase their maritime security, but he denied that the boost in aid was tied to China’s new air-defense zone.
But the secretary is pressing for “intensified negotiations and diplomatic initiatives” to resolve the growing tensions, Reuters reports.
“This is part of a gradual and deliberate expansion that has been planned for some period of time, which we have been working on,” Kerry said. “This is really an ongoing policy and not some kind of quickly conceived reaction.”
More than half of the aid will go to Vietnam.
The announcement comes as an official Chinese newspaper claims that a U.S. fleet was “harassing” a Chinese squadron. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the Associated Press China “always respects and observes international laws and the freedoms of normal navigation and overflight.”