Vietnam asks China to withdraw military equipment from South China Sea

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam has asked China to withdraw military equipment from the South China Sea, following media reports this month that China had installed missiles there.

“Vietnam requests that China, as a large country, shows its responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in the East Sea,” Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a Tuesday statement, referring to the South China Sea.

U.S. news network CNBC reported this month that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its outposts in the South China Sea, citing sources with direct knowledge of U.S. intelligence reports.

Vietnam and China have over-lapping claims in parts of the South China Sea.

“Vietnam is extremely concerned about the information (as reported) and reaffirms that all militarization activities, including the installation of missiles on the Spratly islands, is a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty,” Hang said in the statement posted on the ministry’s website on Tuesday.

The installations, if confirmed, would mark the first Chinese missile deployments in the South China Sea.

China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy-rich maritime territory. Other Asian countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the waterway.

China’s deployment of defense equipment and troops on the Spratly Islands, its sovereign territory, was its indubitable right, China’s defense ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters on Wednesday.

The equipment helped protect the peace and stability of the region and “does not target any country”, the ministry said, without giving details of what deployments had been made.

Reporting by Khanh Vu; Additional reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing; Editing by Catherine Evans, Robert Birsel