Friday, June 20, 2014

• China Plans to Send Second Oil Rig to Waters Near Vietnam By JANE PERLEZ

HANOI, Vietnam — The day after tough talks between Vietnam and China that made no progress over a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea, Beijing said Thursday it was sending a second rig to waters close to Vietnam.

The move, announced on China’s Maritime Safety Administration website, appeared to be an unabashed signal that China will press ahead to secure what it sees as its rights in the commercially and strategically vital waterway despite rising anxiety in the region.

Last month, in a contentious move, China sent its biggest oil rig, a prized $1 billion platform the size of a football field to explore in an area 17 miles off the Paracel Islands claimed by both Vietnam and China. 

In what may be a more lasting act, China began shoveling sand and rock onto shoals and reefs in the Spratly archipelago, which is also contested, several months ago to create islands big enough to house buildings and surveillance equipment, including radar.

The dispatch of the second rig, described by its owner, the China National Offshore Oil Company, as the second largest in its growing fleet of rigs, began Wednesday, according to an announcement by the maritime administration. 

The rig, which is being towed from a location south of Hainan Island in China’s most southern province, is expected to reach its new location in waters near the mouth of the Gulf of Tonkin by Friday, the announcement said.

Protesters demonstrating against China in Hanoi on Thursday. The dispatch of a second oil rig in the South China Sea began on Wednesday. Credit Luong Thai Linh/European Pressphoto Agency

It was not immediately clear if the second rig would end up in waters disputed by Vietnam and China. Reports Thursday in the state-controlled press of Vietnam about the movement of the rig did not stipulate that it would be located in waters claimed by Vietnam.

The commander of the Vietnamese Coast Guard, Nguyen Quang Dam, said the coordinates released by China showed the oil rig would be positioned just inside China’s continental shelf. 

China had sent oil rigs to the same general area five years ago, the general said in an interview Thursday with Vietnam Express, a state-run newspaper.

Still, he said, the Coast Guard was monitoring the developments and was “prepared to deal with any situation.”
The coordinates suggested that the rig’s final position would be right on or close to the equidistant line between Vietnam and Hainan, according to Holly Morrow, a fellow of the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The muted response from Vietnam on Thursday might indicate that the authorities were still trying to ascertain whether or not the newly deployed rig will end up in waters claimed by Vietnam, Ms. Morrow said.

She said it would not be surprising if China deliberately drilled in both disputed areas and undisputed waters to underscore the point that, from China’s point of view, all the drilling was “normal” activity.

The second rig was purchased in 2013, from “overseas,” according to an article in the newspaper run by the oil company. 

It was described as a “semi-submersible drilling platform,” and was named South Sea No. 9.
The parking of the first rig, known as 981, in early May to a position 120 miles off the shore of Vietnam and 17 miles off one of the Paracel Islands set off a storm of protest by Vietnam, and sent relations between China and Vietnam plummeting to their lowest point in decades.

China and Vietnam fought a fierce land border war in 1979; in 1974 the Chinese military took possession of islands in the Paracel chain then occupied by South Vietnamese forces.
The simmering hostility to China in Vietnam erupted after the arrival of the rig, igniting riots in several cities.
A number of factories thought by the rioters to be Chinese owned were destroyed, though in fact many were owned by Taiwan-based proprietors. 

Four Chinese people were killed, and China evacuated several thousand workers.

From the tone of the statement by China’s Foreign Ministry after talks between China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and the leadership here on Wednesday, Mr. Yang appears to have lectured the Vietnamese on China’s indisputable rights in the South China Sea, and in particular, to the Paracel Islands.
The Chinese statement denied there was any dispute to discuss with Vietnam.

For their part, the Vietnamese told Mr. Yang they wanted to hold international negotiations on the Paracel Islands and the surrounding waters and called for the application of the Convention of the Law of the Sea. China has repeatedly said it would not consider such talks.

Separate from the issue of the rigs, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said Thursday it welcomed talks next week sponsored by Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, on how claimants in the South China Sea could agree on a legally binding code of conduct to govern actions by competing nations.

Talks on such a Code of Conduct have dragged on intermittently for years, and though the United States has encouraged the discussions as a way of ensuring freedom of navigation in the waterway, participants in the talks have said China has showed less enthusiasm.