Vietnam’s prime minister said Thursday for the first time that his country is considering legal action against China over its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, a move that Beijing would likely fiercely oppose.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its own, bringing it into conflict with the far smaller nations of Vietnam, the Philippines and three others that have rival claims. Beijing also has a territorial dispute with Japan over a cluster of islands in the East China Sea.

Last year, the Philippines filed a complaint against China before an international tribunal in The Hague to challenge the legality of its claims, antagonizing China. Beijing wants any disputes with countries to be resolved bilaterally even as it continues to engage in what many in the region regard as provocative assertions of its sovereignty in the waters.

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