HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam demanded Friday that China remove an oil exploration rig from an area of the South China Sea where their border is still being demarcated, and said Beijing's unilateral actions were complicating regional tensions.
The oil rig was at the center of a standoff between the countries in 2014 when China parked it near the Paracel islands, which Vietnam claims as its exclusive economic zone. The incident sparked deadly riots in Vietnam.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said China has moved the oil rig into an area in the Gulf of Tonkin where the countries are negotiating the demarcation of their sea border.
"Vietnam resolutely opposes and demands that China abandon drilling plans and immediately withdraw the Hai Duong 981 oil rig from this area, and that it not take additional unilateral actions that further complicate the situation" in the South China Sea, Binh said in a statement, referring to the oil rig by its Vietnamese name.
Vietnam lodged a protest with the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, he said.
Binh also said China's operation of a new lighthouse on one of the seven artificial islands it has recently constructed in the South China Sea was "illegal and invalid."
Rejecting Vietnam's demands, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the oil rig is conducting standard exploratory activities within waters under China's "undisputed" jurisdiction.
"We hope the parties concerned can see this objectively and rationally," Hong told reporters at a regularly scheduled news briefing.
Hong also said the operation of the lighthouse on Subi Reef is a matter falling within China's sovereignty.
The lighthouse is intended to "better fulfill China's international responsibilities and obligations and provide more public facilities to the regional countries, so as to maintain freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea," Hong said.
The relocation of the Chinese oil rig last Sunday came just days before Vietnam's legislature swore in new Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who has vowed to defend Vietnamese sovereignty.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.