Chinese bombers which landed in the South China Sea’s Paracel Islands “seriously violated” Vietnamese sovereignty, Hanoi’s foreign ministry said.
China said air force bombers such as the H-6K used the islands and reefs during training exercises last week.
Friday’s takeoff and landing drills took place on Woody Island, US think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies reported.
Woody Island has China’s largest military base in the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The flights “increase tensions, cause regional instabilities and are not good for maintaining a peaceful, stable and cooperative environment in the East Sea”, Hanoi’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said, using Vietnam’s name for the South China Sea.
“Vietnam demands that China stop these activities, cease militarisation of the area, and strictly respect Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa islands,” Hang said, referring to the Paracels.
The bombers also prompted immediate criticism from Washington, with a Pentagon spokesman condemning the “continued militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea”.
The Philippines said it had “serious concerns” over bombers landing on the disputed islands, saying its foreign ministry had taken “appropriate diplomatic action”.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims with China to parts of the potentially energy-rich waterway.
Hang said the bombers undermined ongoing negotiations between China and Asean on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kan said the international community should not over-interpret a “routine military patrol”.
“The South China Sea islands are Chinese territories,” Lu Kang told the media.
“We hope that relevant parties do not read too much into this,” Lu Kang told the media.
Earlier this month, Vietnam called on Beijing to withdraw military hardware from the Spratly Islands, following reports that missiles had been installed missiles there.
China replied that its military hardware and troops were a sovereign right and the equipment helped protect the peace and stability and did “not target any country”. Beijing did not explain how the deployment of missiles could make an area more stable.
China has built a series of artificially enlarged islands since 2013 and installed an array of air and naval bases and radar networks extending its grip over hundreds of kilometres of ocean where US naval dominance previously faced few serious challenges.
Vietnam’s state oil firm PetroVietnam claims maritime tensions with China will hinder offshore drilling and production operations.
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