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Vietnam is said by U.S. officials to be worried about growing Chinese territorial encroachment in the resource-rich South China Sea, which China has in the past declared off-limits to non-Chinese fishing vessels.

China also set off alarms among governments in the region in August by announcing it has planted a Chinese flag on the floor of the South China Sea, using a mini-submarine.

The China Times report quoted Chinese Col. Zhao Xiaozhuo of the Academy of Military Science as saying the U.S. should sell military goods like C-130s to China.

“As a tactical transport, C-130 cargo aircraft serve for middle-ranged deliveries — that is, the distance is within the [battlefield] theater,” said Col. Zhao.

The C-130, first flown in 1954, is considered one of the world’s premier military transports that can take off and land on rough airstrips. The aircraft is used widely by U.S. special forces commandos, for parachute troops, to launch drones and for dropping 10,000-pound bombs.

John Tkacik, a former State Department China affairs specialist, said the C-130 waiver and China’s response appeared linked to Mr. Gates’ visit to the region.

“It sends the wrong message to the Southeast Asians, its send the wrong message to the Chinese,” Mr. Tkacik said. “We should not be encouraging the Chinese to have long-range air-lift capabilities for their military.”

China currently operates a fleet of similar Y-8 Shaanxi transports and is building a Y-9 transport that closely resembles the C-130.