Vietnam's prime minister has said that his country is considering legal action against China over its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, a move that Beijing is likely to fiercely oppose.

Nguyen Tan Dung's comments on Thursday did not specify what specific action his country would take, just days after China started evacuating its citizens from Vietnam following deadly anti-China riots.

The bloody protests came after Beijing deployed an oil rig in the disputed waters, triggering an angry response in Hanoi, which sent ships to disrupt the drilling operation.

China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea, bringing it in to conflict with neighbouring states, including Vietnam and the Philippines.

Last year, the Philippines filed a complaint against China before an international tribunal in The Hague to challenge the legality of its claims, antagonising China, which prefers to resolve the dispute bilaterally,

Vietnam had been trying a more low-key approach in its dealings with China, but the oil rig deployment prompted it to toughen its stance.

China has rejected demands to withdraw the rig, accusing  Vietnam of "attacking China in an absurd manner".

Vietnamese diplomats have previously said their country might now file its own appeal or join Manila's legal challenge against China, the AP news agency reported.

Senior officials from the Philippines said that  Dung and other Vietnamese officials mentioned that plan to their Philippine counterparts in closed-door meetings on Wednesday.

No military solution

Speaking at the opening of the World Economic Forum in Manila, Dung criticised China but ruled out a military solution to the dispute between the states.

In his speech on Thursday, the Vietnamese prime minister said that his country had "endured untold suffering" because of past wars and that any conflict could disrupt the global economic recovery.

Dung told the meeting that China's actions in the South China Sea were "directly threatening peace, stability and maritime security".

More than 130 ships, including military vessels, and aircraft have been deployed by China to guard the oil rig, he said.

Source: Agencies