Following a wave of violent protests in Vietnam last month against a billion-dollar oil rig deployed by China in disputed waters of the South China Sea, the Chinese government announced yesterday that it was sending yet another rig to waters near Vietnam in an attempt to ‘secure its rights’.
The second rig has been described by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation as the second-largest in its fleet. The rig was dispatched on Wednesday from the south of Hainan Island and is expected to reach its new location near the mouth of the Gulf of Tonkin sometime today, according to the New York Times.
It’s not entirely certain that the second rig will end up in waters disputed by Vietnam and China, as coordinates released by China reportedly show that the oil rig would be placed just inside China’s continental shelf. The commander of the Vietnamese Coast Guard, Nguyen Quang Dam, said that it was “prepared to deal with any situation” nonetheless.
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 the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard.
The muted response from Hanoi on Thursday might indicate that the authorities were still trying to ascertain where the rig would end up, Ms. Morrow said.
She said it would not be surprising if China deliberately drilled in both disputed and undisputed waters to underscore the point that, from China’s point of view, all the drilling was normal activity.
According to an Associated Press report, the 600-meter-long rig is not “expected” to send plummeting relations between the two nations past the point of no return “because it lies far to the north of the politically sensitive waters surrounding the Paracel Islands”.
Let’s spare a thought, anyways, for the employees of Vietnam’s Taiwanese factories, who are probably boarding up their windows in swift, Pavlovian-style response to the news of oil rig #2.