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Vietnam warns China about harassing ships

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 6:27 p.m.

HANOI — Chinese ships have been ramming into and firing water cannons at Vietnamese vessels trying to stop Beijing from putting an oil rig in the South China Sea, according to officials and video footage shown at a news conference in Hanoi on Wednesday.

Several boats have been damaged and at least six Vietnamese on board them have been injured, Vietnam officials said, in a dangerous escalation of tensions over waters considered a global flashpoint.

“We are strongly concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by vessels in the disputed area,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday in Washington.

China has been harassing Vietnam and Philippine vessels and fishermen in the potentially oil- and gas-rich waters it claims.

But China's deployment of the oil rig on May 1 and the flotilla of escort ships, some armed, is seen as one of its most provocative steps in a gradual campaign of asserting its sovereignty in the South China Sea. With neither country showing any sign of stepping down, the standoff raises the possibility of more serious clashes.

Hanoi, which has no hope of competing with China militarily, said it wants a peaceful solution and — unlike China — hadn't sent any navy ships to areas close to the $1 billion deep sea rig near the Paracel Islands. But “all restraint had a limit,” a top official warned.

“Our maritime police and fishing protection forces have practiced extreme restraint, we will continue to hold on there,” Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of Vietnam's coast guard, told a news conference in Hanoi. “But if (the Chinese ships) continue to ram into us, we will respond with similar self-defense.”

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