Background Briefing: South China Sea: China Redeploys HYSY 981 Oil Drilling Platform by Carlyle A. Thayer, 29 December, 2015


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The China Maritime Safety Administration announced that the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil drilling platform will operate in the South China Sea from December 28, 2015 to February 10, 2016 at location 17-29.53 degrees N latitude and 110-57.18 degrees E longitude.

Below are my questions:

Q1. What is your assessment of the China Maritime Safety Administration’s announcement that the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil drilling platform will operate in the South China Sea form 28/12/2015 to 10/2/2016?

ANSWER: The HYSY 981 is a very expensive oil drilling platform. It was estimated to cost 6 billion renminbi to build. For commercial reasons China cannot leave this platform idle. The location that the China Maritime Safety Administration announced is to the north of the Paracel islands and lies to the southeast of Hainan island where
China has already issued oil exploration blocs. It lies on the Chinese side of a hypothetical median line where Exclusive Economic Zones overlap between China and Vietnam. On the face of it this is purely a commercial operation and is not threatening to Vietnam in the way it was when the HYSY 981 was deployed in waters off Triton Island in May-July last year.


Q2. What does China hope to achieve by deploying the Haiyang 981 into the South China Sea just before 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam convenes?

ANSWER: While it is true that the HD981 plans to deploy two and a half weeks before the 12trh National Party Congress meets and stay on location nearly a week after the congress concludes, on the basis of information at hand, there is no apparent direct linkage between the deployment of the HYSY 981 and Vietnam’s 12th Congress,
scheduled for January 20-28. China is making every effort to win back trust in Vietnam in order to prevent it from leaning towards the United States. If the HYSY 981 were deployed in a provocative manner it would be counter-productive and provoke anti-China sentiment in Vietnam.


Q3. In your view, what will happen next?

ANSWER. Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs will make a routine protest about the deployment of the HYSY 981 as an infringement of Vietnamese sovereignty. At the moment there should be no cause for alarm.


Carlyle A. Thayer, “South China Sea: China Redeploys HYSY 981 Oil Drilling Platform,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, 29 December, 2015.

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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.



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