Chinese dredging vessels, Mischief Reef
China and Vietnam trade barbs over Beijing's plane in disputed region US Navy/Reuters

China has hit back at Vietnam after the country blasted Beijing for landing a plane on the Spratly islands in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing said China has every right to land its plane on the Beijing-built airstrip in the region.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a statement: "Relevant activity falls completely within China's sovereignty. The Chinese side will not accept unfounded accusations from the Vietnamese side."

"China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. China will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side," added the spokesperson, referring to the Chinese name.

China had earlier sent a civilian aircraft on the pretext of a "test flight" that landed on the Fiery Cross reef, which is entirely claimed by Beijing, heightening tensions. The reefs are hotly contested and Vietnam also lays claim to them.

Vietnamese authorities strongly protested against China's action saying it undermines the sovereignty of countries in the region. Asserting that the incident threatens the region's "peace and stability," Hanoi's foreign ministry said: "Vietnam resolutely protests China's above-mentioned action, asking China to immediately end while not repeating similar move."

China has been creating artificial islands in the South China Sea which could potentially be used for military purposes. But Beijing has rejected the accusations.

Meanwhile, the US has expressed concern over the tense situation and called on all parties to show restraint. State Department spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala said: "We encourage all claimants to actively reduce tensions by refraining from unilateral actions that undermine regional stability, and taking steps to create space for meaningful solutions to emerge."

She said there "is a pressing need for claimants to publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation construction of new facilities and militarization of disputed features".

The archipelago, comprising about 750 islands and reefs, is believed to be rich in oil and gas resources. The chain of islands has been at the centre of an international dispute in recent years with China claiming almost the entire region. Multiple countries including Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam are embroiled in overlapping claims.