The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam has condemned actions by China off Vietnam's coast and has urged the country's faithul to take action to defend their country's sovereignty.
While calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, the bishops condemned China's stationing of an explorational deep sea rig off Vietnam's coast in the disputed maritime territory, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
"This situation can pose a high risk for a military conflict," said CBCV president Archbishop Paul Bui Van Doc in a May 10 letter on behalf of the Catholic bishops. "The Chinese government has to stop all its actions of invasion."
The Catholic leaders noted that while Hanoi has been "persistent in diplomatic efforts" aimed at resolving the conflict, it must now "take a firm stance based on the principle of our traditional values of prioritizing the interest of our people and our country."
The bishops said treaties and agreements that were to have shown respect for "the mutual friendship between the two neighboring Communist countries in reality have never served our national interest and instead have only led our country to imperilment."
Before the relase of the bishops' statement, Vietnamese and Chinese vessels rammed each other and dueled with high pressure water cannons in incidents Vietnam claims injured six of its citizens.
The clashes are the latest and most serious sparked by China's dsiputed claims in the South China Sea, which Vietnam prefers to call the East Sea.
Vietnamese anger at China boiled over into nationwide riots that last week led to the reported deaths of anywhere from two to 20 persons; injuries to over a hundred others and the burning down of more than a dozen foreign-owned factories.
The riots are the worst in the four decades-long communist rule of Vietnam.
Despite what is viewed as Chinese provocation, Vietnam has avoided strong public condemnation of its larger communist neighbor to the north. Vienamese citizens are criticizing their government accusing it of failing to protect the country's sovereignty.
China and Vietnam fought a short but bloody border war in 1979 in which both sides claimed to be the victors, but in which some hisorians see Vietnam having had the upper hand.