Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - Page 5 News List

China says will not send military to oil-rig scene

UNBELIEVABLE:A Chinese official said military forces will never be sent to a rig in contested waters, but a US official said forces have been close to the rig since May 2

Reuters, BEIJING

A Chinese maritime policeman, right, uses flags on May 2 to signal to a Vietnamese ship, left, which according to Chinese authorities collided with a Chinese coast guard ship in the South China Sea, in a photograph provided by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

A Chinese official said on Friday that China would never send military forces to the scene of an increasingly ugly spat with Vietnam over an oil rig in the South China Sea and accused Hanoi of trying to force an international lawsuit.

A senior US official in Washington dismissed the Chinese statement as “patently ridiculous” and said Beijing had been using air force and navy as well as coast guard assets “to intimidate others.”

Scores of Vietnamese and Chinese ships, including coast-guard vessels, have squared off around the rig despite a series of collisions after the Chinese platform was towed into disputed waters early last month.

Vietnam has accused China of sending six warships, but Yi Xianliang (易先良), deputy director-general of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs, said that Beijing had never sent military forces.

“I can tell you very clearly that from May 2 to today, including to when the [drilling] operations are complete, we have never, are not and will never send military forces. Because we are carrying out normal, civilian, commercial activities,” he told a news conference.

“What I can tell you is that this is on a maritime route and at some periods there have been certain Chinese military ships coming back from the south, but these have been far away” from where the standoff round the rig has been taking place, Yi added.

China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, but parts of the potentially energy-rich waters are also subject to claims by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Beijing stations military forces on some of the numerous islands it occupies in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) and the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) in the South China Sea.

The Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig is drilling between the Paracel Islands and the Vietnamese coast. Vietnam has said the rig is in its 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf, while China says it is operating within its waters.

The US has not taken sides in the territorial disputes, but has been strongly critical of China’s behavior in pressing its claims and called for negotiated solutions.

The US official called Yi Xianliang’s statement “a weak attempt to obscure what China is really doing.”

“China has maintained a robust and consistent military presence near the oil rig since its placement on May 2, including flying helicopters and planes over and around the rig. There are currently multiple military vessels in the vicinity of the rig,” he said.

The official said that on any given day, there were also Chinese navy warships in waters disputed with the Philippines.

Reiterating US criticism of China’s handling of maritime disputes with its neighbors, he said China’s actions were “creating serious frictions” in relations with the US.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said last month his government was considering various “defense options” against China, including legal action, a move the US has said it would support.

Yi Xianliang denied China was blocking any proposals by Hanoi for high-level dialogue or for a special envoy to travel to Beijing.

“I know that certain people in Vietnam, perhaps because they are trying to find another way to resolve the problem, are creating certain conditions. The so-called other route is the so-called lawsuit way,” he said. “If this spreading of rumors or distorting of facts is to achieve the aim of lodging a lawsuit, then I have to say that this is a miscalculation.”

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