China Sends Fighter Jets to Protect Oil Rig in Disputed Zone

Protesters hold banners and shout anti-China slogans during a rally against China in Hanoi, Vietnam, 11 May 2014 (DPA).

HANOI/BEIJING (DPA) — China sent warplanes to protect an oil rig located in disputed waters in the South China Sea, reports from Vietnam said Monday.

China repeatedly flew two groups of jet fighters over Vietnamese ships that have been trying to prevent the installation of a Chinese oil rig in waters claimed by Hanoi, Colonel Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of Vietnam's coast guard, was quoted as saying.

Vietnamese ships fought back with water cannon after being attacked Monday, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, posting pictures shot by reporters at the scene.

The clashes lasted an hour, and there were no reported injuries.

China has deployed as many as 80 vessels including warships to guard the drilling platform since May 1, Thu said.

China insists the oil rig site is inside its "sovereign territory" near the disputed Paracel islands, which Beijing claims as the Xisha islands.

The government and state media did comment on the Vietnamese reports of military jets in the area, which Hanoi says is within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone.

On Sunday, Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Tan Dung denounced China at a regional summit in Myanmar over its actions in the sea, where other nations also have territorial claims.

Dung called the move "extremely dangerous action" and "directly threatening peace, stability and maritime security and safety in the South China Sea."

A declaration by the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations called on all sides to "refrain from taking actions that would further escalate tension and to work towards an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea."

Thousands of Vietnamese protested over the weekend against China's deployment of the oil rig.

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry called China's deployment of fighter jets an "aggressive act" and backed creation of a "code of conduct" to calm down tensions.

"All nations that are engaged in navigation and traffic within the South China Sea, the East China Sea, are deeply concerned about this aggressive act," Kerry said ahead of a meeting with Singapore's Foreign Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam.