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Yang Jiechi, China's State Councilor

China has sent a formal warning to Vietnam not to disturb operations of Chinese companies operating near disputed islands in the South China Sea.

This response came after Hanoi condemned the illegal movement of a CNOOC oil rig into territorial water it claims. 

Yang Jiechi, China’s State Councilor, told Vietnam’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Pham Binh Minh, that Chinese firms operating in the Paracel Islands, called the Xisha Islands by the Chinese, are within the mandate of China’s sovereignty.

Operations should not be subject to interference, according to a statement posted on the China’s foreign ministry website Tuesday.

Vietnamese harassment of Chinese companies conducting normal activities violated China’s sovereignty and administration rights, Yang said in a telephone call to Minh. 

On Tuesday the United States condemned the action of the oil rig, calling its movements “provocative and unhelpful to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region”.

This is the latest show of Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region, which is alarming some of the smaller countries.