Anti-China protest in Hanoi, Vietnam
Protesters shout as they hold an anti-China banner which reads, "down with China" at a park in front of Chinese embassy in Hanoi Reuters

China has blamed the US for escalating tensions in the South China Sea, where Chinese ships have been involved in a number of skirmishes with the Vietnamese and Filipino navies.

The foreign ministry in Beijing accused the US of fuelling long-standing tensions by encouraging its allies to engage in dangerous behaviour.

"It must be pointed out that the recent series of irresponsible and wrong comments from the United States which neglect the facts about the relevant waters have encouraged certain countries' dangerous and provocative behaviour," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

"We urge the United States to act in accordance with maintaining the broader picture of regional peace and security, and act and speak cautiously on the relevant issue, stop making irresponsible remarks and do more to maintain regional peace and stability," she added.

China accused Vietnam of ramming its ships 171 times in a week over a dispute in the South China Sea. Vietnam had complained that China had crashed into its vessels and fired water cannon at them.

Tensions erupted when China deployed an oil rig in disputed waters close to the Paracel islands in the South China Sea. The US called for caution by all regional powers but said Beijing's movement of the rig was "provocative and unhelpful".

In a different part of the sea, a Chinese fishing boat was seized by Philippines police close to the Spratly islands, another contentious archipelago whose ownership is disputed.

The Philippines police said the Chinese crew had been hunting protected sea turtles in an exclusive economic zone, 60 miles off Palawan.

China said the Philippines crew had acted illegally as it had crossed into Chinese waters.

"We once more demand the Philippines immediately release them unconditionally. China reserves the right to take further action," Hua said.