Chinese officials are claiming the U.S. is stoking international discord over a disputed drilling operation in an area of the South China Sea in territory claimed by both China and Vietnam, according to a Tuesday statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“There is indeed a country taking provocative actions in the South China Sea, but this country is not China,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday at a daily press briefing reported by state news service Xinhua.
“The U.S. mistaken comments have encouraged dangerous and provocative actions.”
The comments came after a Monday call between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told his Chinese counterpart drilling operations of the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oilrig, “and numerous government vessels in waters disputed with Vietnam was provocative,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday, according to a report by the Reuters news service.
“We are particularly concerned – all nations that are engaged in navigation and traffic within the South China Sea, the East China Sea, are deeply concerned about this aggressive act,” Kerry said during the meeting, according to the report.
View Paracel Islands in a larger map
The war of words between the State Department and the Chinese Foreign Ministry is the latest in the tense standoff between Vietnam and China concerning overlapping claims to territorial and mineral rights in the South China Sea.
On May 1, the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) owned Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig set up shop to the southeast of the Paracel Islands — which both Vietnam and China claim as their exclusive economic territory.
China brought along about 80 ships to protect the rig belonging to the plethora of quasi-military maritime organizations and seven ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy, according to a Monday report from Carl Thayer in The Diplomat.
The placement of the rig is puzzling to some experts.
“This was an unexpected move because China-Vietnam relations have been on an upward trajectory since the visit to Hanoi by Premier Li Keqiang in October,” wrote Thayer.
“At that time, both sides indicated they had reached agreement to carry forward discussions on maritime issues. China’s move was also unexpected because Vietnam has not undertaken any discernible provocative action that would justify China’s unprecedented actions.”
Vietnamese and Chinese ships have clashed over the oilrig since May 3, resulting in ship ramming and using water cannons. Ships clashed as recently as Monday, according to Vietnamese officials.