A top Chinese general vowed on Thursday his country would protect an oil rig in waters contested by Hanoi and ensure that it continued to operate despite angry protests in Vietnam.
"What we're going to do is ensure the safety of the oil rig and ensure the operation will keep going on," General Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, told a news conference after talks at the Pentagon.
Vietnam had sent in ships to try to disrupt the drilling, he said through an interpreter, "and that is something that we are not able to accept."
His comments came after anti-China protests in Vietnam left one Chinese worker dead and over 100 injured, with mobs torching foreign-owned factories.
Fang said China had shown "restraint" in the South China Sea and only now had set up an oil rig after other countries in the region already had started drilling.
"I don't believe there is any problem with China doing this drilling activity within its own territorial waters," the general said at a joint press briefing with his US counterpart, General Martin Dempsey.
Vietnam does not recognise the waters as under Chinese authority.
Fang also suggested America's strategic "rebalance" to Asia had been exploited by some countries who wanted to check China's growing economic power.
"Some of our neighbouring countries did try to use this opportunity of the rebalancing strategy of the United States" to "stir up" troubles in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, he said.
While Fang held talks at the Pentagon, the US State Department reiterated its criticism of China's "provocative" decision to install the oil rig.
"We are very concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation of this kind," spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.
Tensions between China and Vietnam erupted earlier this month after Beijing moved the deep-water drilling rig into waters that Hanoi claims.
There have been repeated skirmishes near the controversial oil drilling rig in recent days involving vessels from the two countries, with collisions and the use of water cannon.
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