Wednesday, January 27, 2016

South China Sea: China Deploys HD 981 Back in Disputed Waters

  • Background Briefing:
    South China Sea: China Deploys
    HD 981 Back in Disputed Waters
    Carlyle A. Thayer
    January 21, 2016
    [client name deleted]
    As you may have heard, this afternoon, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a
    press conference about the recent incident concerning the movement of China’s HD-
    981 oil rig. According to the Vietnamese foreign ministry's spokesman, on the
    evening of January 16, the HD-981 was deployed to an area 21.4 nautical miles to
    the east of the median line (between Vietnam's and China's baselines), right outside
    of the Gulf of Tonkin. This is an overlapping area between central Vietnam and
    China's Hainan island that has not been demarcated between the two sides. Vietnam
    has summoned China's ambassador to Vietnam on January 18 to express Hanoi's
    concern, and today held a press conference to demand's China's immediate
    withdrawal of the oil rig.
    Q1- What's your assessment of this incident, and how will China respond to
    Vietnam's call for withdrawal?
    ANSWER: Whoever made the decision to redeploy the HD 981 into disputed waters
    on Vietnam’s side of the median line made an ill-timed decision. If we assume the
    deployment of the HD 981 was for commercial reasons, China is unlikely to remove it
    in the face of Vietnamese diplomatic protests. Chinese spokespersons will repeat
    their normal line that China is operating legally in its own waters.
    Q2- Do you think this will spark yet another crisis similar to what happened in the
    summer of 2014?
    ANSWER: If the deployment of the HD 981 was for non-commercial reasons, it has
    come at a time when Vietnam’s leadership is preoccupied with the 12
    party congress. At the moment it is not clear how many and what kinds of ships
    accompanied the HD 981 to its new location. If China announces its intention to keep
    the rig on location for a period of time Vietnam will have to respond with protests at
    sea by its Coast Guard. If Vietnam fails to respond China will keep coming back.
    President Xi Jinping is now in the Middle East. This will be a test of his ability at crisis
    Q3. Do you think the timing of this incident has anything to do with Vietnam's
    upcoming Party Congress?
    Thayer Consultancy
    ABN # 65 648 097 123
  • 2
    ANSWER: If the deployment of the HD 981 was decided to coincide with the holding
    of the 12
    national congress it was an ill-timed decision that will be counter-
    productive. In 2014 when China first deployed the HD 981 the first causality was
    strategic trust between Hanoi and Beijing. Even President Xi Jinping’s visit to Hanoi in
    November last year did not restore strategic trust. The current deployment of the
    HD 981 will make it difficult for Vietnam to pursue friendly ties with China without
    seeking to balance China by reaching out to other major powers.
    Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “South China Sea: China Deploys HD 981 Back
    in Disputed Waters,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, January 21, 2016. All
    background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer). To remove yourself
    from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key.
    Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
    other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
    registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

No comments: