News / Asia

Chinese Experts: Oil Rig Removal Not Linked to US Pressure

Ships of Chinese Coast Guard near Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) off shore of Vietnam, May 14, 2014.
Ships of Chinese Coast Guard near Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) off shore of Vietnam, May 14, 2014.

Chinese scholars say Beijing's removal of a controversial oil rig from the South China Sea is part of a long-term strategy.

The United States, which says it does not take sides in the territorial dispute, welcomed the removal after calling Beijing's placement of the rig provocative.

The vessel's removal was announced just one day after U.S. President Barack Obama talked by phone with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.  It also took place just days after senior U.S. and Chinese officials gathered in Beijing for annual economic and strategic talks.

In an online post Thursday, Chinese scholar Zhang Hongliang said, “For China, this action is equal to agreeing to the U.S. demand that China cede the South China Sea."  That sentiment is being echoed by many on China's social media networks.

But Chen Yixin, a U.S.-China expert based in Taiwan, says Beijing is looking at the bigger picture.

“Mainland China clearly didn’t want this situation to expand.  Looking at things now, I wouldn't dare say it is a lasting withdraw, but mainland China is clearly patching up a quarrel and does not want a long-term confrontation with the United States," Chen said.

He added that Beijing is retreating now to make bigger gains later.

Zheng Hailin, a Hong Kong-based expert on the East and South China Seas, agrees.  He says moving the oil rig now is a long-term strategic move for China.

"Possibly China will consider another train of thought, that it must not meet Vietnam and the Philippines with up close force.  I believe that China is the embodiment of shifting directions and changing reasoning," he said. "Maybe China believes that the previous way of thinking is very unsuitable.  Using that kind of previous thinking can cause people to view China as intentionally intensifying problems.  Thus, I believe China is making concessions in order to advance."

Lin Yongxin, who works in Nanhai (South China Sea) Research Institute, said the timing of the move is a coincidence.

“This, this certainly isn’t surrendering to U.S. pressure.  This is because the timing is very coincidental, it’s only the mission arrangements," Lin said. "Of course, this move, I think, its effect will help a lot at alleviating the situation."

Lin said it is likely that more Chinese oil rigs will be back in the future because of the presence of oil and gas in the area.

The rig's placement in waters also claimed by Vietnam in May sparked more than two months of tensions, including non-lethal clashes involving ships along with anti-China riots in Vietnam.  

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.

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