Updated: 05/05/2014 18:51 | By Agence France-Presse

Vietnam slams 'illegal' China oil rig in contested seas

Vietnam has labelled as "illegal" a decision by China to move a deep-water drilling rig into disputed waters in the South China Sea for the first time, and demanded it withdraw from the area.

Vietnam slams 'illegal' China oil rig in contested seas

This picture taken on May 21, 2012 shows China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC)'s first deep-water oil drilling rig leaving the port of Qingdao - by AFP

The China Maritime Safety Administration issued a unilateral navigational warning on its website saying the rig would be drilling in the South China Sea close to the Paracel Islands -- which are controlled by China but claimed by Vietnam.

The rig, operated by state-owned CNOOC, will drill from May 4 to August 15 and vessels are banned from entering an area within a  three mile (4.8-kilometre) radius of the site, according to the statement.

An angry Vietnam said the area falls "within its special economic zone and continental shelf".

"Any activities conducted by foreign countries in Vietnam's waters without Vietnam's permission are illegal," foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement Sunday.

"Vietnam resolutely opposes" such activities, he added.

According to state-owned oil and gas giant PetroVietnam, the area in question is just 120 nautical miles from Vietnam's coast.

PetroVietnam called on CNOOC to "immediately stop all the illegal activities and withdraw the rig from Vietnamese waters".

China claims sovereign rights to almost the whole of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday the "relevant activities of this rig are completely within China's sea area of the Xisha (Paracel) Islands".

The South China Sea is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

China and Vietnam, which fought a brief border war in 1979, have been locked in a longstanding territorial dispute over the contested waters, and frequently trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration, fishing rights and the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

Vietnam's authoritarian rulers have also been struggling to control intense domestic criticism of their handling of relations with China.

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