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China defiant as US warns over sea row with Vietnam

BEIJING/HANOI -- An unrepentant China on Friday defended its actions in disputed Asian waters amid warnings of war with Vietnam, as Washington voiced “serious concern” after riots left two Chinese workers dead and more than 100 injured.

Vietnam has been shaken by its worst anti-China unrest in decades following Beijing's deployment of an oil rig in contested South China Sea waters, which triggered ramming incidents involving Vietnamese and Chinese vessels.

As tensions mounted, a top Chinese general warned that Beijing “cannot afford to lose an inch” of what it considers its territory.

China has accused Hanoi of “connivance” with protesters who have targeted hundreds of foreign-owned factories in Vietnam, as long-simmering enmity between the communist rivals boiled over.

Two Chinese citizens were killed and more than 100 injured, Beijing's foreign ministry said, expressing “serious concern.”

China's state-run Global Times newspaper turned up the rhetoric with a strident editorial supporting the use of “non-peaceful” measures against Vietnam and the Philippines.

“The South China Sea disputes should be settled in a peaceful manner, but that doesn't mean China can't resort to non-peaceful measures in the face of provocation from Vietnam and the Philippines,” it said.

“Many people believe that a forced war would convince some countries of China's sincerely peaceful intentions,” the paper added.

An AFP photographer who was taken by Vietnamese authorities to the scene of the maritime standoff saw dozens of Chinese ships, including naval vessels, facing off against Vietnamese ships near the controversial oil rig.

Whenever Chinese vessels approached, the Vietnamese ships broadcast messages saying: “We are warning you — you are entering Vietnamese sea waters, violating our exclusive economic zone and the law of the sea.”

At one point what appeared to be a Chinese surveillance plane flew overhead.

On land, calm appeared to have returned to flashpoint industrial zones across Vietnam on Friday after riot police were deployed to restore order.

Vietnam's Communist regime, wary of public gatherings that could threaten its authoritarian rule, has in the past alternated between tolerating anti-China rallies to send a message to Beijing, and violently breaking them up.

Beijing 'miscalculation'

Beijing, which claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, appears to have “miscalculated” the reaction to the oil rig deployment, said Bill Hayton, author of “Vietnam: Rising Dragon.”

“It has simultaneously outraged Vietnamese public opinion, hardened attitudes in the Vietnamese government, revitalized the 'China Threat' narrative in Southeast Asia and made the region more receptive to the United States' 'pivot' to Asia,” he said.

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