United States Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday described China’s moves to deploy an oil rig in waters disputed by Vietnam as “provocative,” prompting an angry rebuttal from Beijing.
The Chinese government accused the U.S. of making “erroneous” remarks that had “emboldened some countries’ provocations.”
In recent days, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels have been in a tense stand-off, sparked by China’s deployment of an oil rig in the waters of the South China Sea off the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by Beijing.
Vietnam dispatched ships in response, arguing that the waters were within its exclusive economic zone, located around 200 nautical miles from its coastline.
Mr. Kerry called Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Tuesday, and said that China’s “introduction of an oil rig and numerous government vessels in waters disputed with Vietnam was provocative,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Mr. Kerry also called on both sides to “deescalate tensions.”
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying hit out at his remarks. “In the South China Sea, some countries made provocations, but it is by no means China,” she responded.
“It is the American side that has made some erroneous remarks on the South China Sea issue, and these remarks emboldened some countries’ provocations.
“The U.S. should reflect on its own words,” Ms. Hua added. “If the U.S. really hopes for the Pacific Ocean to be pacific, what kind of role does it want to play?”
She repeated China’s demands for Vietnam to “stop provocations” such as “ramming” Chinese vessels near the rig.
China has maintained that it was well within its rights to deploy the $ 1 billion rig in the waters off the Paracel Islands, which it claims. Beijing would, however, have been aware of the possibility of a backlash from Vietnam, which disputes China’s claims.