Controversial Chinese oil rig headed to Indian Ocean
China's controversial Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig is back in action, reports Duowei News, a US-based Chinese political news outlet.
China's Maritime Safety Administration announced on New Year's Day that the rig, owned by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, is on its way from Sanya in southeast China's Hainan province to Singapore, where it will begin exploration in the Indian Ocean.
Last May, the rig sparked a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese boats after it was deployed to waters near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, leading to violent ship-ramming from both sides and deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
The rig was withdrawn in July, a month earlier than originally announced, though China claims that it was because the platform had completed its work in advance.
Beijing has not backed off its aggressive stance in the South China Sea since the Haiyang Shiyou 981 standoff, with multiple reports noting that it has been carrying out extensive reclamation activities on several reefs in Spratly Islands, which are also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, among other claimants. Six of the reefs — Johnson South, Gaven, Cuarteron, Fiery Cross, Hughes and Eldad — have reportedly been transformed into islets. The area of Fiery Cross Reef, in particular, is said to have been increased 11-fold from 0.08 square kilometers to 0.96 square kilometers, making it even bigger than the Taiwan-controlled Taiping, the largest of the Spratlys by land area.
In October, however, China and Vietnam both pledged to better manage maritime disputes in the South China Sea, with Chinese state councilor Yang Jiechi saying that China-Vietnam relations were in "a critical period of improvement and development."
"A healthy, stable, and friendly Vietnam-China relationship is in the interest of the two peoples and will benefit regional, peace, stability and development," a statement from Vietnam's foreign ministry added.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has continued to push for a "dual track" approach in resolving South China Sea disputes, where relevant disputes are being addressed by countries directly involved through bilateral consultation, while general peace and stability of the South China Sea would be jointly maintained by China and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Not everyone is in support of China's approach, however, with the Philippines applying to the United Nation's Permanent Court of Arbitration last January for a ruling that China's claims in the South China Sea — as delineated by Beijing's so-called "nine-dotted line" — are illegal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Beijing has rejected the arbitration.
China's diplomatic strategy has been focused on its neighboring countries, Duowei said, in particular those in Southeast Asia because of the perceived need to counter the US "return to Asia" policy. Wang has repeatedly stated that Southeast Asia remains a priority for Beijing and has visited the region seven times in the space of a year, while President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang both visited the region at around the same