Despite the fact that the Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all believe they have territorial rights to waters in the South China Sea, China doesn’t quite see it that way. Following the deployment of a giant oil rig to an area claimed by Vietnam, tensions over these disputed waters has been growing.

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Vietnam speaks of Chinese ramming

Today, Vietnam said that a Chinese vessel, with air support, deliberately rammed to of its ships on Sunday causing considerably damage and injuring six people.

“On May 4, Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels,” said Tran Duy Hai, a Foreign Ministry official and deputy head of Vietnam’s national border committee.

“Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate Vietnamese vessels. Water cannon was used,” he said in an interview today. Six other ships were believed to be hit as well but damage was minor.

“No shots have been fired yet,” said a Vietnamese navy official, who could not be identified because he was not authorized to speak to media. “Vietnam won’t fire unless China fires first.”

While that is certain to not frighten China one bit and only cement what they know, it is surprising to hear criticism of China from Vietnam given the $50 billion plus in bilateral trade the communist countries enjoy.

While Vietnam was calling on China’s state-run oil company CNOOC to remove the rig, the United States was criticizing the move as well.

U.S and China respond

The United States is “strongly concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by vessels in the disputed area,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said In Washington on Wednesday.

She then called the move “provocative and unhelpful” to regional security.

“We call on all parties to conduct themselves in a safe and appropriate manner, exercise restraint, and address competing sovereignty claims peacefully, diplomatically, and in accordance with international law,” she told a regular news briefing.

What came next was quite funny especially when Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told Vietnam that the rig had nothing to do with Vietnam. While one can expect a statement like that regarding the United States getting involved in the war of words (for now), it’s a bit of a head scratching moment when you park an oil rig in a country’s waters and effectively say, “Don’t worry about it. Not your business”

“The United States has no right to complain about China’s activities within the scope of its own sovereignty,” she added.