Vietnam yesterday said that a Chinese oil rig at the center of an bitter territorial dispute appeared to be on the move again, as Beijing denied Hanoi’s accusations that it had sent warships to the scene.
The rig’s deployment triggered anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last month that killed at least four workers and damaged hundreds of Taiwanese, Japanese and South Korean factories mistaken for China-owned enterprises.
Scores of Vietnamese and Chinese ships, including coast guard vessels, have squared off around the rig since it was towed close to the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) early last month. The South China Sea island chain is claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam and China.
In a statement, the Vietnamese Directorate of Fisheries said the rig had shown signs of moving to the east and southeast. China has 119 vessels in the rig’s operating area, it added, including six naval ships and four circling military aircraft.
However, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) dismissed as “completely incorrect” the accusations that Beijing had sent six warships to the site, adding that the rig operations were commercial.
“Because Vietnam keeps forcefully and illegally carrying out interference, we have sent official Chinese government ships to guarantee security on the scene, but we have not sent military ships,” she told a daily news briefing.
The Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig is drilling between the Paracels, which China occupies, and the Vietnamese coast. Hanoi has said the rig is in its exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf, while China says it is operating within its waters.
Hua said Vietnam had sent a large number of armed ships to interfere in the rig’s operations, but would not confirm if the rig moved.
She said rig operations, which started on May 2, are expected to go on until the middle of August.
Hua then accused Hanoi of having stirred up last month’s anti-China protests saying: “Vietnam’s government incited certain domestic lawbreaking elements to smash up and burn foreign companies, including Chinese ones... There has still been no compensation for this.”
Separately, the Chinese Ministry of Defense accused the US of stirring up regional tensions by sending “wrong messages” on territorial disputes, in particular through the holding of joint military exercises.
“This has made regional peace and stability even more chaotic,” it said in response to a Pentagon report last week on China’s military spending and ambitions.
The defense ministry said the US is the real threat, pointing to US cyber-warfare and missile defense capabilities, and defense spending far exceeding that of China’s.
In another territorial flareup, Japan yesterday said Chinese fighter jets flew “abnormally close” to Japanese military aircraft in the East China Sea, Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera said.
The Chinese Su-27s “flew so recklessly that the Self-Defense Forces pilot felt in danger,” Onodera told visiting Australian Minister of Defense David Johnston.
China’s defense ministry did not respond to requests for comment.