China has called on Vietnam “to stop disrupting” its oil drilling in the South China Sea days after ships from both countries clashed in disputed waters in the most serious escalation in maritime tensions between the two countries in recent months.

Chinese officials here disputed the accounts from Hanoi suggesting that China’s vessels had, on Sunday, “intentionally rammed” two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels in an area where China is drilling for oil.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said Chinese ships had used water cannons to damage and intimidate their ships, injuring six people.

Officials added that no shots had been fired.

Account disputed

In Beijing, officials disputed Hanoi’s account. A top official of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs said Vietnam had triggered the clash by carrying out “intensive disruptions of normal oil drilling in waters administered by China,” off the Paracel Islands – referred to as the Xisha islands by China.

The $1 billion rig is being operated by the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

‘Within EEZ’

China has justified drilling in the region by claiming the disputed Paracel or Xisha islands, and arguing that the waters fall within the islands’ exclusive economic zone.

“The waters of the operation, which is only 17 nautical miles away from the Zhongjian Island is completely within waters off China’s Xisha Islands,” he said, adding that Chinese companies had been operating in the waters as long as 10 years ago.

The area in question is however seen by Hanoi as falling within its Exclusive Economic Zone, located around 200 nautical miles from Vietnam’s own coastline.

More In: World | International | News