News / Asia

Analysts: China Planted Oil Rig to Test Vietnamese Resolve

Officers of the Vietnamese Marine Guard monitor a Chinese coast guard vessel (top) on the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) offshore of Vietnam, May 15, 2014.
Officers of the Vietnamese Marine Guard monitor a Chinese coast guard vessel (top) on the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) offshore of Vietnam, May 15, 2014.
Sarah Williams
China’s decision to place an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam has raised the stakes in the showdown over the South China Sea.  As the week came to an end, violence and lack of diplomatic talk indicate indicate tensions between China and Vietnam are not getting better. 

China claims almost the entire maritime region, despite various competing claims from the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, in addition to Hanoi.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung says by placing the oil rig near the Paracel Islands China has “seriously threatened peace and stability.”

Beijing says Vietnam’s claim to the region is “ridiculous,” with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang calling the islands the “indisputable territory of the Chinese people.”

Vietnamese outrage over the Chinese oil rig triggered anti-China protests that killed at least two people earlier this month.

In addition, a Vietnamese fishing boat sank this week after it was allegedly rammed by Chinese vessels.  Vietnam says four other ships were surrounded and rammed by Chinese vessels two days later.

Two experts spoke to VOA about the Chinese decision to place the oil rig in contested waters at this time, knowing it would provoke outrage from Vietnam.

“I think it’s part of a long-term pattern of testing the responses of states around the region, ranging along the spectrum of much weaker states like the Philippines up to Japan and the United States,” said Michael Auslin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“There are moments of opportunity and this seemed to be one where they could get away with really trying to stake their claim in waters that by almost any definition are Vietnam’s,” Auslin said.

John Tkacik, the director of the Future Asia Project at the International Strategy and Assessment Center in Alexandria, Virginia, agrees with the perception that this was a calculated move by Beijing.

“I think this has been in the works for a long time,” Tkacik said.  “One just doesn’t just get a $1.2 billion oil rig and plunk it in the South China Sea as a way of sending a signal on the spur of the moment.”

The dispute is complicated by China’s preference to deal with the countries involved individually, instead of through an organization like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.  That has made the other members of ASEAN concerned about China’s growing might. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping says China works to resolve peacefully issues of maritime sovereignty, and questions Asian countries that seek alliances against neighbors.

“If you look ahead, clearly the ground is shifting against China, I would argue, in terms of perceptions and the degree to which other Southeast Asian nations are willing to let it expand without type of hedges around it,” said Auslin. 

Vietnamese officials indicate they might take legal action against China concerning the oil rig and attacks against Vietnamese ships.  The U.S. might help the Southeast Asian nations in this regard, according to John Tkacik.

“International law, on the Law of the Sea, to be specific, is on the side of the non-China claimants here,” he said.  “The United States is in a position to play a leadership role in forcing this issue into an international arbitration.”

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Comments page of 2
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by: jobert from: japan
May 31, 2014 7:30 AM
We will not stir up trouble in the S China Sea as long as everyone agrees the whole south china sea is ours.....later the pacific ocean the indian ocean the rest of the ocean and the moon...

by: Peter v from: Australia
May 31, 2014 4:28 AM
I think China is a big bully

by: Bhalanee from: usa
May 31, 2014 4:20 AM
Report Reply Vietnam ruled by VC has little or no credibility. The oil rig is well inside China's territorial water , 150 miles off Vietnam coast but only 17 miles south of its big islands with hundreds of chinese living there for centuries. Besides, in 1974, China defeated South Vietnam navy which tried to conquer it when China's navy was only 1/3 of SV's US destroyers; US did not intervene at China's request. Both VC and S V both recognized this region as China's ancient territory for many decades. Only 20 years ago, VC changed its former position and spreaded propaganda to its people claiming that the territory is Vietnam's. .
But in international diplomacy, the diplomacy is continuity must be maintained. It cannot be simply changed.
Sending many ships disgusted as fishermen to ram China's ships and ended in capsiding itself is not a decent right-minded nation would do. But, instead of admitting its mistake, it lied that China sank its boat. Voice of America even published 4 boats sunk by China. So VoA is nothing but a bigger liar.
Last week's riot has already cost Vietnam $2 billion which it promised to compensate to the investors. The more actions it take the more his ugly face is shown because the lies by Reuters and Bloomberg and AP could not come up with any photo to prove it. But, video from China's news media did show Vietnam boat speeding toward China's ship and rim its side.
These VC boats are already lucky that China did not arrest for such barbaric action. Yet, the shameless VC has a cheek to accuse China of sinking it. Where is the proof?

by: Harry from: N. A.
May 31, 2014 3:17 AM
The confrontation between China and the South East Asian Self-Defense Alliance lead by Japan seems to be inevitable. China is hell-bent to control the East Vietnam Sea (aka South China Sea) due to the following geopolitic reasons:

1/ Control and dominate the trading routes and oil supply between Japan/S. Korea/Taiwan/SE Asian countries to the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. Once it secures a stranglehold to this vital routes, all countries mentioned above would be at its mercy.

2/ This is the only route to secure its own oil supply from its investment in Africa and the Middle East. This is extremely vital to its economy and to achieve its role as a superpower.

Given the importance of this geopolitic objective, I don't see how China would back out from this future confrontation. And once it secures the S. China Sea, Indonesia and Malaysia will be next, just by virtue of their geographic location (just look at the map). It will be inevitable, unfortunately.

Seems to me war is just a matter of time now....

by: Chi Le from: USA
May 31, 2014 1:59 AM
When Russia annexed Crimea, China casts a blank vote. Now Russia will do this when China is invading Vietnam’s waters. They are changing the status of the world by forces. However, water is different from land. I don’t believe China has enough ability to maintain the water region. Russia is pushing Ukraine to the E.U., and China is pushing Vietnam to the democratic process.

by: Tang Sochetvitou from: Cambodia
May 30, 2014 10:40 PM
21st Century is the Asian Century is right, now most of Asian countries are getting most of the basic ingrediences they need, The Experience, The Money & The status. Now the world will wait and see how/ what they will cook. My suggestion is that the world, esp. those mature countries in EU & the US, have to watch out and should seriously involve in the process because these Asian countries might cook something not pleasant for the world to eat like the EU did two times in the 20th century.
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