Vietnam’s coast guard says China has moved an oil-drilling structure out of a disputed area of the South China Sea. Vietnam had strongly protested the placement of the structure when it was deployed in May. The action hurt relations between China and Vietnam.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the structure would be now placed in waters near the island province of Hainan.
In May, China moved the oil platform to an area Vietnam claims as its economic zone. China said it was operating the platform legally within the waters around the Paracel islands. China occupies those islands.
The Vietnamese coast guard says it will stay in the area to protect its fishing boats and territorial rights.
Tuesday, a group of Chinese ships moved a Vietnamese coast guard ship away from the area near the Paracels. Vietnamese and Chinese ships have faced each other almost every day since the oil platform was deployed.
The move of the platform could reduce tensions between the two countries. The dispute has led to the worst relations between China and Vietnam since they fought a short war in 1979.
The United States will also likely be pleased that the platform is being moved. The American government had criticized China’s decision to place the platform in disputed waters. The U.S. called the move a “provocative” act.
The China National Petroleum Corporation is the country’s main producer of oil and gas. In a statement, it said the oil platform completed its drilling on Tuesday and found signs of oil and gas. It says the next step would be to look at the information gathered to see if it should do more drilling.
Xinhua reported the comments of Wang Zhen, the deputy director of the company’s policy research office. He reportedly said the company found the area has what it called “basic conditions and potential for oil exploration.” But Wang Zhen said the company must do more research before it decides if it should start testing possible oil removal from the area.
China had said the platform was to be in the area until August. China has not said why it was moved early.
Many people on a Chinese social media site criticized the decision to move the oil-drilling platform. People placed messages on Weibo, a service similar to Twitter. Many said the United States pressured the Chinese government to move the rig.
But China’s Foreign Ministry said the decision was made for business reasons. In its words, there was “no relation to any outside factor.”
China says it owns the area in which it placed the platform. This week it told the United States not to become involved in disputes about who controls the South China Sea.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the waters.
This story is based on a report from the Reuters news service. It was written in Special English by Christopher Cruise and edited by Caty Weaver.