YANGON - Vietnam's prime minister told southeast Asian leaders on Sunday that China was slandering his country and committing dangerous violations in disputed waters, but the 10-nation ASEAN group refrained from criticising Beijing in a summit communique.
Tensions rose in the resource-rich South China Sea last week after China positioned a giant oil rig in an area also claimed by Vietnam. Each country accused the other of ramming its ships near the disputed Paracel Islands.
Hundreds of Vietnamese rallied in the country's biggest cities on Sunday to denounce China, in rare protests that looked likely to prolong the tense stand-off.
Speaking to fellow leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a summit in Myanmar, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Vietnam had acted with "utmost restraint" and used all means of dialogue to request China remove the rig. "But until now, China not only hasn't responded to Vietnam's rightful request but also slandered and blamed Vietnam while increasing their violations, which are becoming more dangerous and serious," he said, in his strongest comments yet on the crisis.
China has accused Vietnam of intentionally colliding with its ships in the South China Sea, after Vietnam asserted that Chinese vessels used water cannon and rammed eight of its vessels at the weekend near an oil rig.
ASEAN, a loose grouping that relies on unanimous consensus to reach decisions, faced a test of unity at the summit as some members expressed alarm over China's growing assertiveness and pushed for a strong statement.