On March 20, four Vietnamese fishing boats illegally entered and fished in the territorial waters off China's Xisha Islands. The Chinese patrolling vessel tried repeatedly to persuade the Vietnamese boats to leave by whistle blowing, shouting and handflags, but all were ignored. Then the Chinese vessel fired two warning signal shells into the sky.

Lee described a meeting he conducted with Vietnamese counterparts the week after one of its vessels reportedly caught fire after Chinese sailors fired a flare at it.

"They have thousands of fishermen who set to sea every day without the benefit of a U.S. Coast Guard-like entity who can go out when those guys get into trouble," said Lee, the deputy for Operations Policy and Capabilities.

"There is a growing demand for Coast Guard-like authorities and capabilities and training efforts. The problem is there is far more demand than there is supply to meet the demand at the present moment."

China.org.cn - April 11, 2013