Kerry Says China Action in Seas Dispute 'Provocative'

South China Sea
Chinese marine surveillance ships Haijian No. 49 (front) and Haijian No.50 cruising in the East China Sea Reuters/Kyodo

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States sees China's introduction of an oil rig and several vessels in waters disputed with Vietnam as "provocative", U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told China's foreign minister in a telephone call on Monday.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

"He (Kerry) said 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.

"He urged both sides to de-escalate tensions, ensure safe conduct by their vessels at sea, and resolve the dispute through peaceful means in accordance with international law."

China's foreign ministry said there certainly had been provocative moves in the South China Sea, but that China was not the guilty party and repeated that it was the United States' fault for encouraging such behavior.

"We hope that the U.S. side can carefully reflect - if they really hope for the Pacific Ocean to be peaceful, what kind of role do they actually want to play?" spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Hua said that Wang urged Kerry to "objectively and fairly" look at the South China Sea issue, and "act and speak cautiously".

Tensions rose in the resource-rich South China Sea last week after China positioned the giant oil rig in an area also claimed by Vietnam. Each country accused the other of ramming its ships near the disputed Paracel Islands.

In separate remarks to visiting Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, Kerry said the United States was deeply concerned by China's "aggressive act" in the dispute.

"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 in the Monday meeting.

"We want to see a code of conduct created; we want to see this resolved peacefully through the Law of the Sea, through arbitration, through any other means, but not direct confrontation and aggressive action," Kerry added, according to a transcript of his comments released by the State Department.

Speaking to fellow leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a summit on Sunday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Vietnam had acted with "utmost restraint" and used all means of dialogue to request China remove the rig.

Dung said China was slandering his country and committing dangerous violations.

However the communiqué issued at the end of the summit by the 10-nation ASEAN group contained no criticism of China.

Vietnamese state media said that Vietnamese and Chinese ships had again used water cannon on each other on Monday, though there were no injuries.

Chinese spokeswoman Hua would neither confirm nor deny the new face-off, repeating that China was urging Vietnam to "end its provocative actions" and withdraw its ships.

Kerry Says China Action in Seas Dispute 'Provocative' | World