China’s tactics during HD-981 drilling rig incident

VietNamNet Bridge – During the HD-981 drilling rig incident, China used malicious tactics, civilian and civilian-disguised forces, and conducted civil and economic measures, not military actions, that were offensive to the international community.

Part 1: China’s apparent intentions emerge one month after oil-rig deployment

Part 2: What is China’s goal after the HD-981 oil rig incident?

HD-981 drilling rig, china's plot, east sea

A vessel of the China Coast Guard attacked a ship of the Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance.

Using this tactic, China used “white vessels” (civilian ships) instead of "grey ships" (the navy) to cope with law enforcement forces of neighboring countries. This strategy was successful in driving away fishing vessels of the Philippines out of the Scarborough reef.

China also uses a mobile drilling rig, not a fixed one. The mobility allows it to quickly put the rig into the desired position in a short time, enough to surprise the opponent, and does not allow timely intervention from outside.

The opponent also does not enough time to implement long-term measures such as legal acts. The time to file an international case is often quite long.

The Philippines filed a petition against China after the Scarborough incident in February 2013, but it will take one year for court establishment procedures and memorandum preparation to be completed. So, it will not be until this September that the court may be accepting the case.

During that time, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) was able to move the rig so the Court will have no jurisdiction since the offending object has been withdrawn.

China can also mobilize a large number of fishing vessels to stop, provoke and attack law enforcement forces of neighboring countries to create a pretext for localized conflicts and an attack of “gray ships”.

History has proven that Chinese fishing vessels conducted aggressive acts in Da Nang in 1962, in Hoang Sa (Paracels) in 1974 and Scarborough in 2012.

Deploying its drilling rig in the North, China has not forgotten its expanding of the Gac Ma (Johnson) base in the South, using the stratagem “Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west”, to divert the opponent’s and the world community’s attention.

Position of HD-981 oil rig

China carefully worked out its plan to place the oil rig 17 nautical miles from Tri Ton Island in order to assert China's views on their 1996 baseline and that Tri Ton and other islands of Xisha Islands (Hoang Sa or Paracels of Vietnam) have the right to have the exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles and the continental shelf.

This position also reinforces the view of China that Xisha (Hoang Sa of Vietnam) belongs to China, and that there is no dispute.

This position is also near Hainan Island so China can easily mobilize huge forces of maritime law enforcement, the navy and also fishing vessels to protect the rig.

If there is commercial oil, the distance from the rig to the oil pipeline system to Xisha or Hainan would be shorter. This position is located near block 119 that Exxon has been drilling, enough to put pressure on American companies but not lead to a confrontation with the US.

This area is only related to Vietnam and China, so Beijing expects that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – with its tradition of neutrality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries - will have no excuse to object to its actions.

Also, this position does not greatly affect international shipping lanes in the East Sea (South China Sea) so China’s acts will not raise world concern over maritime security.

On May 27, China moved the rig to a new location, 25 nautical miles to the east-southeast of Tri Ton Island, 23 nautical miles from the first position to the east-northeast, about 150 nautical miles from Ly Son island of Vietnam. However, this position is still in the exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles from Vietnam’s shore.

However, attempts don’t always turn into reality.


International conflicts often have an ending based on the balance of power and results in political, diplomatic, military, economic and media fields.

Considering the economic scale, military forces and communication apparatus, Vietnam can’t compare with China - the most populous country in the world.

But Vietnam’s viewpoint of restraint, not to use military force, and settlement of disputes by peaceful means is highly appreciated and supported by the countries in the region and the international community.

The restraint of the Vietnam Coast Guard and Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance forces before the aggressive attacks of Chinese ships is not only for themselves but also for regional peace and stability in the world.

On the international politics chessboard, in an increasingly flat world, countries more and more need each other and a sustainable friendship.

Vietnam’s perspective is evident in the statement by its senior leaders: "Vietnam will take all necessary, reasonable measures to protect its legitimate rights and interests. At the same time, Vietnam always shows goodwill, satisfactorily resolving disagreements through negotiation, dialogue and other peaceful means, in accordance with the common perception of senior leaders of the two countries, the bilateral agreement on the fundamentals principles on solving problems at sea, in accordance with the rules and practices of international law, especially the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, and to not damage the political credibility and cooperation between the two sides. "

According to Article 33 of the UN Charter, the peaceful means consist of negotiation, mediation, international organizations and legal action.

Vietnam has been and will persist in negotiation, and maintain communication about the tense situation in the East Sea to the UN, ASEAN, the Non-Aligned Movement, and other countries. Indonesia and Russia have already expressed willingness to take the mediator role.

The mediator role of Indonesia is also in line with the ASEAN policy of settling disagreements in the region without interference from outside. A conciliation commission may be established on the basis of the UN’s request. The commission’s decisions are not mandatory but its recommendations and international opinion will give a direction for the tension.

Vietnam can also choose a legal solution at the right time when other measures cannot solve the problem. All solutions that can be implemented depend on the goodwill of the parties.

Viet Long

HD-981 drilling rig, china's plot, east sea