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China eyes sovereignty when illicitly putting oil rig in Vietnam’s waters: experts

Monday, May 12, 2014, 18:35 GMT+7

China has illegally launched an oil rig in Vietnamese waters as a tool mainly for illicitly claiming its sovereignty over the waters, not for exploring oil and gas, an American professor and a Vietnamese official have remarked.>> Vietnamese ship hits back at 15 Chinese vessels with water cannon >> Chinese vessels continue to attack Vietnamese ships in Vietnam's waters>> China sends fighter jets to guard illegal oil rig in Vietnam’s waters >> China’s deployment of oil rig endangers peace, marine safety: Vietnam premier They have voiced the same opinion in two separate interviews about the fact that Chinese oil rig HD 981 has illegitimately operated in Vietnamese waters in the East Vietnam Sea, with the protection of about 80 vessels including warships, and a number of aircraft, since May 1.   In his interview with the New York Times on Thursday, Taylor Fravel, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the U.S.’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that economically, the area where the rig is located has few proven or probable hydrocarbon reserves. The professor, a researcher on China’s territorial issues, emphasized that the rig, which cost the Chinese US$1 billion, is extremely expensive to operate on a daily basis. “China is most likely using the rig to assert and exercise its jurisdiction over the waters it claims in the sea,” Fravel said. Commenting on Vietnam’s legal foundations for its sovereignty over the waters, the professor affirmed that the rig is situated within Vietnam’s continental shelf. China has announced the drilling platform is located at 15°29’58’’ North latitude and 111°12’06’’ East longitude in the East Vietnam Sea. This location is about 119 nautical miles (221 km) from Ly Son Island off the central Vietnamese province of Quang Ngai and 18 nautical miles south of Tri Ton Island of the Southeast Asian country's Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago, according to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Le Hai Binh. Fravel went on to say that “China’s action can only harden the perception among other states with claims in the [East Vietnam Sea] that China harbors aggressive intentions and preference for unilateral action.” Nevertheless, Chinese actions in the past few years, such as inviting foreign oil companies to invest in exploration blocks off the coast of Vietnam, have indicated that China may favor a more expansive definition, he concluded.Using tricks to illegally claim sovereignty Meanwhile, Dr. Ngo Thuong San, chairman of the Vietnam Oil and Gas Association, told Tuoi Tre in a recent interview that China is playing “a trick to illegally claim its sovereignty over Vietnam’s territorial waters in the East Vietnam Sea.” The Vietnamese oil and gas sector has long surveyed the bead of the waters and is calling for investment in oil and gas exploration and exploitation there. However, this water body has complicated natural conditions, with its average depth of 1,500-2,500 meters, Dr. San said, adding that it often faces powerful tropical storms, which the Chinese rig cannot survive. “Currently, only a few countries, like the U.S., can exploit oil and gas in such complex waters. China is not capable of doing the same thing,” the official said. Therefore, the deployment of the rig is actual a new step China is taking in illicitly asserting its sovereignty and jurisdiction over the East Vietnam Sea, following a series of other encroachments and attacks by Chinese ships in the past, Dr. San said. In 1993-1994, China illegitimately called investors to bid for an oil and gas lot in waters off central Vietnam. At the time, a foreign company engaged in the bid but later quit it after strong responses from Vietnam, the official said. On May 26, 2011, three Chinese maritime surveillance ships cut the exploration cables of Vietnam’s ship Binh Minh 02 when it was operating on the Vietnamese continental shelf in the East Vietnam Sea.  A similar case happened on June 9, 2011, when a Chinese fishing ship accompanied by two Chinese fisheries surveillance vessels encroached on Vietnam’s waters and deliberately cut the exploration cables of the Viking 2 ship owned by the Vietnam Oil & Gas Corporation. Another case occurred on November 30, 2012, when two Chinese fishing boats caused the seismic survey cables of Vietnam’s Binh Minh 02 to be severed off the country’s Con Co Island off northern Quang Tri Province. Over the past several years, Chinese vessels have also attacked Vietnamese fishing boats many times and captured many Vietnamese fishermen, Dr. San said.

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