China defends oil rig in troubled waters

China defends oil rig in troubled waters
This file picture taken on May 14, 2014 from a Vietnamese coast guard ship shows a Chinese coast guard vessel (L) sailing near a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

China has put up its strongest defence to date over its May 2 placement of an oil rig in disputed waters, in an attempt to shore up international opinion and pre-empt a possible legal move by Vietnam.

China's foreign ministry on Sunday night issued a statement outlining its territorial sovereignty over the Paracel islands based on historical grounds such as naval expeditions during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126AD) and modern-day evidence such as Vietnamese maps describing the isles with Chinese names.

The ministry also accused Vietnam of "illegally and forcefully disrupting the oil rig operation" by sending frogmen to the area, dropping obstacles such as fishing nets and ramming the Chinese vessels on escort and security missions there 1,416 times.

"While illegally and forcefully disrupting the normal operation of the Chinese company on the sea, Vietnam also condoned anti-China demonstrations at home," the ministry said, citing anti-China riots in Vietnam last month that killed four Chinese nationals and injured some 300 others.

In their worst rift since a 1979 border war, Beijing has suspended some bilateral exchanges with Hanoi and demanded compensation, while Vietnam has said that it is considering legal action against China at an international tribunal, like what the Philippines has done in response to China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Analysts say the statement contains largely the same arguments made by the ministry at its media briefings since China placed its largest oil rig in Paracel's waters, but is lengthier. The move was seen as a test of the United States' resolve in backing its allies such as the Philippines and Japan in their territorial spats with China.

The latest development is thus viewed mostly as an attempt to sway worsening global opinion with regard to China, as seen at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, where Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel chided China for disrupting regional stability through actions such as the oil rig move.

Sino-ASEAN expert Li Jinming of Xiamen University told The Straits Times that the foreign ministry wants to show that China has exercised maximum restraint despite Vietnamese provocation.

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