HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam accused China on Thursday of violating its sovereignty by conducting seismic exploration near disputed islands in the South China Sea and urged Beijing to do more to promote peace, stability and healthy bilateral relations.
It issued the accusation at a time of heightened tension in the region after China bristled at what it called an attack by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in raising territorial disputes in the South China Sea two weeks ago at a regional security forum in Hanoi.
China has said the South China Sea is a matter of "core" interest, which analysts say puts the issue of its territorial claims on a par with the restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of China.
On Thursday, Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said Chinese vessels had been conducting seismic exploration activities since the end of May near an island in the Paracels, which Vietnam claims, as well as at oil and gas plots on its continental shelf.
"China's action has severely violated Vietnam's indisputable sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and Vietnam's sovereign rights to its continental shelf and its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone," she told a news conference.
Nga said China's actions ran counter to international conventions on conduct in the disputed region and went against the will of the two countries' leaders for maintaining peace and stability and avoiding further complicating the situation.
"Vietnam demands that China immediately cease and stop the recurrence of these violations of Vietnam's sovereignty (and) its sovereign rights in the South China Sea, to contribute to peace and stability in the South China Sea and to promote stable and healthy bilateral relations," she said.
China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan all have competing historical claims over parts of the South China Sea and the potentially oil and gas rich Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
In late July, Chinese naval forces conducted a series of drills in the South China Sea.
Nga noted that the situation had been "complicated" recently in the South China Sea and she urged all parties to work for peace in the region.
"We must see the full picture of the region. There are incidents that happen here and there at various times that make us feel that the situation is very complicated, or tense," she said. She was not referring specificlly to the Chinese exercises.
Next week, U.S. naval vessels are scheduled to visit central Vietnam.
Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Ron Popeski