BEIJING Jun 10 China accused Vietnam of
"gravely violating" its sovereignty and endangering the lives of
Chinese sailors in an escalating territorial dispute that has
added to broader tensions over the South China Sea.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei issued the
condemnation of Vietnam late on Thursday after Hanoi accused
China of harassing a ship doing seismic surveys in the South
China Sea, where the neighbours have rival territorial claims.
China has quarreled with both Vietnam and the Philippines in
recent weeks over their competing maritime claims and although a
military clash seems unlikely, the tensions could trouble
regional diplomacy and possibly draw in the United States, which
took up the issue last year.
Hong said China was the victim in the latest encounter in
which a Chinese fishing boat became entangled with cables from
the Vietnamese ship and was dragged along for over an hour.
"The Vietnamese ship put the lives and safety of the Chinese
fishermen in serious danger," Hong said in a statement on the
Chinese foreign ministry website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
He accused Vietnam of violating China's claim on the Spratly
archipelago and nearby seas, which Vietnam also deems its own.
"It must be pointed out that by conducting unlawful oil and
gas surveys in seas around the Wan-an Bank of the Spratly
archipelago and by driving out a Chinese fishing vessel, Vietnam
has gravely violated China's sovereignty and maritime rights,"
"China demands that Vietnam cease all violations," he said,
adding that Vietnam should "not take actions that would
complicate and expand the dispute."
China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all
claim territory in the South China Sea, parts of which could
hold deposits of oil and gas .
China's claim is by far 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.
The United States, the dominant military power in the
Pacific with bases in Japan and South Korea, became embroiled in
the sea tensions with China last year after Washington stressed
its support for a collective regional solution to the mosaic of
Beijing favours dealing with each dispute separately with
the other countries staking territorial claims.
On Thursday, Vietnam said China had harassed its survey ship
in the second such incident in two weeks, and it gave a very
different account of the latest incident.
A Chinese fishing boat used a "cable cutting device" which
became trapped in underwater cables used by a ship hired by
Vietnam, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said. The ship was
operating over Vietnam's continental shelf and within its
exclusive economic zone off the southern coast, it said.
Two Chinese ships then came to help the Chinese fishing
vessel, she said, calling the incident part of a campaign of
systematic and intentional violations by China.
Vietnam lodged a complaint with China in late May when a
Chinese patrol vessel slashed the cables of a Vietnamese ship
conducting a seismic survey off its south-central coast.
China and the Philippines have also been exchanging
accusations over rival claims over different parts of the
Manila has accused China of intrusions into its territory,
citing six instances, including one in March when two Chinese
patrol boats tried to ram a survey ship.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)