China withdrew Tuesday an oil rig operated by CNOOC in the South China Sea where Vietnam also claims the seabed rights, Xinhua news agency reported.
The rig has now been deployed near Hainan Island, it said.
The deepwater drilling rig 981 has completed drilling operations in the Triton Island of Xisha islands in the South China Sea and gained relevant geological data smoothly and accurately as planned, the state news agency said.
However, the withdrawal came one month ahead of schedule. China Maritime Safety Administration had announced earlier that the rig will conduct drilling operations from May 4 to August 15. The announcement prompted strong protests from Vietnam.
Some observers are seeing the early withdrawal as a Chinese concession on the maritime territorial dispute with Vietnam, bowing to pressure from the United States, Ming Pao Daily noted.
The US Senate approved a resolution on July 10 demanding China withdraw rig 981 as well as escort ships from the disputed sea area.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei, meanwhile, said “the withdrawal has nothing to do with external factors”.
Wang Zhen, deputy director of China National Petroleum Corp’s research unit, was cited by Xinhua as saying that CNOOC had optimized drilling plans and greatly boosted production efficiencies. Now, as it’s typhoon season, the company must ensure the safety of both staff and facilities, he said.
Wrapping up drilling and removing the rig allows China to meet Vietnamese diplomats and curtail Vietnam’s efforts to engage support from the US or Japan, said Carl Thayer, professor emeritus with the University of South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy. It also allows China to frame the dispute as a bilateral issue before a meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Myanmar, Financial Times reported.
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