HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam says it plans to build 32 new coastal patrol vessels to help defend its maritime sovereignty.

Hanoi is locked in a territorial dispute with its much larger neighbor China in the South China Sea that has exposed its lack of maritime muscle and surveillance capabilities.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the government would spend US$540 million on 32 new coast guard and fishery patrol vessels.

The decision was made Thursday, according to a government statement released later the same day.

Vietnam and China have sparred for years over who owns what in the South China Sea but tensions escalated sharply in early May when Beijing deployed a large oil rig near the disputed Paracel islands.

Hanoi has unsuccessfully sent ships to try and shoo the rig away.

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