06/20/2014, 00.00
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Beijing ignores Hanoi (and Manila), builds three new drilling rigs in South China Sea

by NH

As high-level talks between Chinese and Vietnamese officials in Hanoi end without any concrete results, China builds three drilling rigs worth US$ 1 billion. One is almost operational; the other two should be ready by October 2015.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Within the next two years, Beijing plans to build three more oil rigs off the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, an area at the centre of a fierce territorial dispute with Hanoi and Manila.

The three rigs will join one built on 1 May in an area claimed by Vietnam. That had set off protests by Vietnamese nationalists that turned violent, and left two people dead and 140 injured.

By its action, China seems bent on pursuing its claims in the Pacific despite a rising tide of protest by other countries of the area.

Meanwhile, talks between top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi and Vietnamese officials in Hanoi have been inconclusive.

Beijing's envoy met with top Vietnamese government and Communist Party officials, reiterating China's position that it intends to pursue its imperialist policies in the region.

In the Vietnamese capital, nationalists held anti-Beijing protests during the diplomat's visit, quelled by Vietnamese police who dispersed demonstrators and made at least seven arrests.

Whilst Hanoi and Beijing were engaged in official talks, China announced that the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) would build three drilling rigs (HD 982, HD 943 and HD 944, worth US$ 1 billion) in the South China Sea in the waters off the Spratly and Paracel Islands, within Vietnam's 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Drilling rig HD-982, which is 600 metres in length, was deployed recently and is already operational.

China's government also announced that "Chinese businessmen" (including military forces and their families) will be able to buy and own land on the Paracels and Spratlys in 2018, further confirming China's aim in the area.

Vietnam and the Philippines have been increasingly worried about Beijing's imperialism in the South China and East China seas.

The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.

For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational".

Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime traffic goes through it.

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