Haiyang Shiyou

Vietnam warned China against moving a $1bn deepwater oil rig into disputed waters of the South China Sea, warning it could repeat the diplomatic row between the two countries from 2014.

According to Vietnam, the rig entered disputed water last Saturday.

The diplomatic standoff started in the first quarter of 2014, when China National Offshore Oil, the operator of the deepwater rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HYSY 981), towed it into waters claimed by the two countries.

The rig began operations on 9 May 2012 in the South China Sea, 320km south-east of Hong Kong at a depth of 1,500m.

When it was moved near to the Paracel islands on 2 May 2014, Vietnam stated that the move violated their territorial claims. China parked the rig in waters considered by Vietnam as its exclusive economic zone for ten weeks.

At that time Chinese officials said that it was legal as it falls within surrounding waters of the Paracel Islands controlled by China.

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Since then, tensions between the countries have worsened.

"The area HYSY 981 oil rig moved is an overlapping area between the two continental shelves of central Vietnam and China’s Hainan Island."

Responding to the warning from Vietnam, China’s foreign ministry said the rig was not drilling in disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Commenting on alleged activities of China’s HYSY 981 oil rig outside mouth of Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs Le Hai Binh said: "According to relevant Vietnamese authorities, in the evening of 16 January 2016, HYSY 981 oil rig moved to a position about 21.4nm to the east of the assumed median line (between the two baselines of Vietnam and China).

"On 18 January 2016, a representative of MOFA met with a representative of the Chinese Embassy in Ha Noi to cite Vietnam’s concern over the above-mentioned move by China.

"The area into which HYSY 981 oil rig moved is an overlapping area between the two continental shelves of central Vietnam and China’s Hainan Island. This area has not yet been delimited."

Le Hai Binh urged China to withdraw the HYSY 981 oil rig from this area where Vietnam reserves all of its legal rights and interests in accordance with international law.

Image: The deepwater rig Haiyang Shiyou 981. Photo: courtesy of VOA.