BEIJING - China called on Vietnam on Friday not to "complicate" the South China Sea issue, after a senior official in Vietnam said it could explore legal action, among various options, in its territorial dispute with China over the waters.
Friction has grown between the two communist-run countries since China in July sent a ship for a months-long seismic survey to an area internationally designated as Vietnam's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but also claimed by China.
Speaking at a conference in Hanoi on Wednesday, deputy foreign minister Le Hoai Trung said Vietnam preferred negotiations but did have other options for the disputed waterway, including arbitration and litigation.
Asked about the comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that at the core of the South China Sea problem was Vietnam and other claimants "invading and occupying" Chinese islands.
"We hope that Vietnam faces up to historical reality and abides by the high-level consensus reached by both countries, upholds the resolution of the dispute by dialogue and consultations and avoids taking action that may complicate the issue and disturb the broader picture of peace and stability in the South China Sea and bilateral relations," Geng said.
China claims almost all the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea where it has established military outposts on artificial islands. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.
In 2016, the Philippines won a ruling at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated China's claim over most of the waters following a 2013 case filed by Manila.
China refused to recognize the international court ruling which clarified Philippine rights to energy reserves within its EEZ.
But Vietnam's government, which aims for a measured approach towards its largest trading partner, China, had not spoken recently of the possibility of following suit.