CHINA VS VIETNAM: MOVING AWAY
A Chinese oil company has completed drilling in disputed waters off the coast of Vietnam and moved a rig that sparked skirmishes between boats of the two countries and deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
The HYSY 981 rig completed drilling in the sea off Zhongjian Island in the Xisha Islands, as the Paracel Islands are known in Chinese, on July 15, China Oilfield Services Ltd. said in a statement yesterday. Oil and gas resources were detected during drilling, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported today.
The removal move comes one month ahead of the schedule announced by the company in late May. The rig will be deployed in the LingShui blocks near China's Hainan Island, it said. Separately, China said yesterday it released 13 Vietnamese fishermen who had been detained for fishing in its waters.
Such gestures may be insufficient to mend relations with Vietnam, which no longer views China as a friendly ideological partner and may seek out alliances with countries such as the Philippines, Japan and even the U.S., said Le Hong Hiep, a lecturer at Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City.
"All the top leaders of Vietnam have spoken out against China," he said in a phone interview. "Vietnam will move to be more assertive to counter China's aggressive actions in the South China Sea. Vietnam cannot go it alone against China."
China Oilfield Services is owned by state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp.
Vietnamese newspaper Tuoi Tre reported today that China had moved the rig 8 nautical miles and reduced the number of vessels to protect it to 70-75 from from 108-112 on July 14. The paper cited Vietnam Coast Guard Commander Nguyen Quang Dam.
China towed the rig into the contested waters on May 2, prompting protests from the Vietnamese government, which said it lay in its exclusive economic zone. The two countries traded accusations that boats from the other had rammed their vessels hundreds of times.
China, which claims a large part of the South China Sea under a 1940s-era map, has stepped up its assertions to both the Paracel Islands and the more southerly Spratly Islands, where it is building artificial islands in areas also claimed by the Philippines.
Ninety-three percent of Vietnamese consider that China's actions could lead to military conflict, according to a Pew Research Center survey released July 14.
The U.S. Department of State said July 11 that China's pattern of "provocative and unilateral behavior" raised serious concerns about its intentions and willingness to adhere to international law and standards.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Michael Fuchs said that claimant states should halt construction activity and freeze certain actions and activities that escalate the disputes.
"Alterations that fundamentally change the nature, size, or capabilities of the presence could fall under the 'freeze,' whereas routine maintenance operations would be permissible," he said.
China responded that countries outside the region should remain "neutral," and respect joint efforts made by countries in the region for peace and stability,'' according to a statement yesterday by Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman.
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