BEIJING (AFP) - China should give Vietnam a "lesson it deserves to get" if Hanoi ratchets up tension in the South China Sea, an aggressive editorial in state-run media said on Tuesday.
The editorial in the Global Times newspaper comes after Vietnam reacted furiously to a decision by Beijing to move a deep-water drilling rig into disputed waters for the first time.
Hanoi labelled the move "illegal" and demanded the rig withdraw from the area close to the Paracel islands, which are claimed by Vietnam but controlled by China, which calls them Xisha and took control of the whole group after a battle with the US-backed South Vietnamese regime in 1974, as US troops withdrew from Vietnam.
Beijing claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, which is believed could sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.
It frequently trades diplomatic barbs over oil exploration and fishing rights with its neighbours, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
"We believe Hanoi has no guts to attack China's drilling platform directly," said the Global Times, which has close links to the ruling Communist Party.
"If Vietnam takes further actions in Xisha, the level of China's countermeasures must be elevated.
"China should evaluate whether Vietnam would stick its head out and become a more aggressive provocateur than the Philippines. If so, China should alter its Vietnam policy and give Hanoi a lesson it deserves to get."
China and Vietnam fought a brief but bloody border war in 1979 which ended with Chinese forces withdrawing and both Hanoi and Beijing claiming victory.
The two countries also have a simmering territorial row over the Spratly Islands, another South China Sea chain of islets and reefs, where the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia also have overlapping claims.