News / Asia

Chinese Oil Rig Moved Away from Disputed Waters Off Vietnam

Chinese ships are seen on the horizon guarding the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig (2nd R) in the South China Sea, July 15, 2014.
Chinese ships are seen on the horizon guarding the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig (2nd R) in the South China Sea, July 15, 2014.

A Chinese oil rig has finished drilling near the disputed Paracel islands in the South China Sea after finding signs of oil and gas and is being moved away from the area, more than two months after its deployment damaged relations with Hanoi.

The Vietnamese coastguard said the $1-billion rig had been towed from contested waters. China's official Xinhua news agency said the rig would be relocated off the southernmost island province of Hainan. It gave no timeframe.

The rig's relocation could reduce tensions between the two neighbors after one of the worst breakdowns in ties since they fought a brief war in 1979.

Its movement toward Hainan is also likely to be welcomed by Washington, which had criticized China's decision to put the rig in waters disputed with Vietnam, calling it a “provocative” act.

Hanoi had said the rig was in its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf. Beijing had said it was operating completely within its waters around the Paracel islands, which China occupies.

China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the country's dominant oil and gas producer, said in a statement the rig “smoothly completed” its drilling on Tuesday and found signs of oil and gas. The next step would be to analyze the geological data and evaluate the layers of oil and gas, it said.

CNPC's preliminary analysis showed “the area has the basic conditions and potential for oil exploration, but extraction testing cannot begin before a comprehensive assessment of the data,” Xinhua quoted Wang Zhen, deputy director of the CNPC Policy Research Office, as saying.

China had previously said the rig was scheduled to explore the waters around the Paracels until mid-August. It was not clear why it had finished one month ahead of schedule, although Xinhua said July was the beginning of the typhoon season.

China's popular Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo lit up with criticism of the move. Many people said the government had bowed to the United States, underscoring the domestic pressure Beijing faces to be tough in its territorial disputes.

But China's Foreign Ministry said the decision was made in accordance with commercial decisions and had “no relation to any outside factor.”

The government also insists the area belongs to China and as recently as Tuesday told Washington to stay out of quarrels over the South China Sea.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, a Chinese government think tank on Hainan, said he believed the rig completed its work ahead of schedule because of good weather before the typhoon season began.

“The place has fairly good oil and gas potential. It looks promising,” said Wu, an expert on China's energy ambitions in the South China Sea.

Action at sea

The rig was towed from its original position overnight to beyond what Hanoi considers its exclusive economic zone, Lieutenant-Colonel Ngo Minh Tung of the Vietnamese coastguard told a small group of reporters on one of the maritime agency's ships in the area.

“According to our assessment and the speed at which it was moving, the rig has left Vietnamese waters,” Tung said.

The coastguard would stay in the area to protect Vietnamese fishing boats and the country's sovereignty, Tung added.

On Tuesday, the same coastguard vessel was chased off by a group of Chinese ships in what had been a near daily cat-and-mouse routine between boats from both sides since the rig was deployed on May 2.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung demanded that China not send any more rigs into Vietnamese waters.

The deployment was a major test for Dung, especially when deadly anti-Chinese riots broke out in Vietnam in May, triggering protests from China. Several people were killed.

The rig is owned by state-run China National Offshore Oil Company Group (CNOOC Group), parent of flagship unit CNOOC Ltd.

It is China's newest and most advanced rig, and can drill in waters up to 3,000 m deep, about double that of the other two rigs China uses for deep sea work, industry sources say.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the waters, whose estimated energy potential varies widely.

Discoveries near the coasts of Southeast Asian countries in recent years have been mostly natural gas, reinforcing the belief among geologists and explorers that there is more gas than oil in the South China Sea.

Chinese industry experts have said the rig had a good chance of finding enough gas to put the area into production. That would give China its first viable energy field in the disputed South China Sea, but make it a source of friction with Hanoi for years to come.

The world's largest energy user imports nearly 60 percent of its oil needs and more than 30 percent of its natural gas.

In a 2013 report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a government agency, said geological evidence suggested the Paracel islands themselves did not have significant potential in terms of conventional hydrocarbons.

However, the chance of making a major gas discovery near the islands was high because there had been several gas finds already in the area, experts have said.

Vietnam has two fields to the left of where the rig had been stationed, much closer to its coast, where U.S. giant Exxon Mobil Corp discovered oil and gas in 2011 and 2012.  

You May Like

Map Shows Every US School Shooting Since 2013

There have been at least 150 school shootings in the United States since 2013, an average of nearly one per week More

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs