DANANG, Vietnam (Reuters) - Three U.S. navy ships arrived in Vietnam on Friday for scheduled port calls with the Vietnamese military, the U.S. embassy said, as tension mounts in the South China Sea between China and several Southeast Asian nations.
Sailors are due to spend a week working on navigation and maintenance activities, medical projects and community events, the U.S. embassy said in a statement.
The visit will not involve combat exercises.
"This exchange helps our respective sailors gain a greater understanding of one another and builds important relationships between our navies for the future," Rear Admiral Tom Carney was quoted in the statement as saying.
The port call was scheduled in advance, Vietnamese officials have said, but it comes during an long-running territorial dispute between China and Vietnam over resource-rich areas in the South China Sea, which covers some of the world's busiest sea lanes and provides rich fishing.
China's military sharply criticized the U.S. on Monday for holding military drills in contested waters of the South China Sea, a dispute in which Beijing has warned Washington not to meddle.
On Tuesday China reiterated its stance that the disputes should be resolved through bilateral negotiations, after the Philippines proposed U.N. arbitration.
China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim territory in the South China Sea. China's claim is the largest, forming a vast U-shape over most of the sea's 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
(Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom; Additional reporting by Nguyen Huy Kham; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)