BEIJING - China on Wednesday dismissed as "completely incorrect" Vietnamese accusations that it had sent warships to guard its oil rig at the center of an increasingly bitter territorial dispute in the South China Sea which Hanoi said appeared to be on the move again.
The rig's deployment triggered anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last month that killed at least four workers.
Scores of Vietnamese and Chinese ships, including coastguard vessels, have squared off around the rig despite a series of collisions after the platform was towed to the area in early May.
In a statement, Vietnam's Directorate of Fisheries said the rig had shown signs of moving towards the east and southeast.
China had 119 vessels in the rig's operating area, it added, including six naval ships and four circling military aircraft.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had not sent warships, adding that the rig operations were completely commercial in nature.
"It is completely incorrect. I think you can listen around and reflect more relevant China's opinion and statement. Based on what I learnt, China's operation on 981 oil platform is just a civil operation. But because Vietnam keeps consistently, forcefully and illegally carrying out interference, so we have sent official Chinese government ships to guarantee security on the scene, but we have not sent warships to provide military protection," Hua told a regular news conference in Beijing.
The Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig is drilling between the Paracel islands, which China occupies, and the Vietnamese coast. Vietnam has said the rig is in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf.
China says it is operating within its waters.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, but parts of the potentially energy-rich waters are also subject to claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Hua said Vietnam had sent a large number of armed ships to interfere in the rig's operations, though she would not confirm whether the rig had moved.
She added that rig operations, which started on May 2, are expected to go on until the middle of August.