BEIJING: An oil rig that China moved into contested waters to the fury of Vietnam has finished drilling “as planned,” the energy company behind the project said, a month earlier than expected.
The official news agency Xinhua said the giant rig would be withdrawn to the area of China’s Hainan island.
Relations between the communist neighbors have plummeted since the rig was moved near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in May.
Beijing and Hanoi are embroiled in a bitter territorial dispute over claims in the area. There have been repeated skirmishes between dozens of Chinese and Vietnamese vessels since the rig was deployed, along with a wave of deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
“The mission has been completed smoothly as planned, and oil and gas has been discovered,” said a statement from China National Petroleum Corp. posted on its website late Tuesday.
“The data collected will be analyzed and a decision made on the next step.”
The statement did not give any indication of the quality of the reserves or how they could be exploited.
Beijing’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea is disputed by several of its Southeast Asian neighbors.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Wednesday reiterated Beijing’s stance that the project had taken place within China’s “inherent territory.”
“China strongly opposes Vietnam’s irrational disruptions and has taken necessary security measures to ensure the operation,” he said.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh hit back, labeling the project as “completely illegal.”
“Vietnam wants to use friendly negotiations to resolve disputes in the East Sea,” he told Agence France-Presse, referring to the South China Sea by its Vietnamese name.
“To create a peaceful, stable environment in the East Sea, Vietnam requests that China not bring the [rig]— or any other oil rig — back to this area or into any other part of Vietnam’s territorial waters.”
China previously said the drilling would continue until August 15.
Meanwhile, Chinese state media reported that 13 Vietnamese fishermen detained in late June and earlier this month had been “deported” back to their home country.