Late Wednesday, a Vietnamese official said attacks by Chinese ships over the past few days had damaged several boats and injured at least six people around a $1-billion (720-million-euro) Chinese deep sea rig near the Paracel Islands, seized by China in 1974, but still claimed by both countries. Ngo Ngoc Thu, the vice commander of Vietnam's coast guard, warned that "all restraint had a limit."
"Our maritime police and fishing protection forces have practiced extreme restraint," Thu told a news conference in Hanoi. "We will continue to hold on there. But if they continue to ram into us, we will respond with similar self-defense."
Thu showed video of the ships ramming Vietnamese vessels and firing water cannon. He said the Chinese vessels had done so dozens of times over the past three days but that Vietnam had not carried out any offensive actions of its own close to the rig, about 220 kilometers (120 miles) off the country's coast.
Earlier Wednesday, a Vietnamese ship hit the Chinese oil rig while it tried to establish a fixed position. There were no reports of injuries.
China deployed the rig May 1, along with a flotilla of escort ships, some armed, potentially provocative steps as the country appears to assert #links:16221330:its sovereignty in the sea#. With neither China nor Vietnam showing any sign of stepping down, the standoff raises the possibility of more serious clashes.
'Further provocative actions'
Vietnam is not the only country feuding with China over the sea this week. On Wednesday China demanded the Philippines release 11 fishermen arrested Tuesday for poaching endangered turtles near Half Moon Shoal on the Spratly Islands, in waters claimed by both countries. China has also demanded that the Philippines release the boat.
"We once again warn the Philippines not to take any provocative actions," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, declaring her country's "indisputable sovereignty" over the islands.
According to the Philippines, the Chinese boat contained more than 350 turtles, some of which were already dead. A boat from the Philippines also transporting poached turtles was apprehended as well.
China claims #links:17304086:nearly all of the sea#. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan dispute that, though only the Philippines has filed a legal challenge to China's territorial claims at a UN tribunal.
The sea and its islands have different names depending on which country one is in.
mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)