SOUTH CHINA SEA — From here, the Chinese oil rig twelve nautical miles away is nothing more than a vertical line on the horizon, barely visible under the stormy sky of the South China Sea. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning on Saturday June 14.
The Vietnamese coast guard’s white-and-blue boat moves forward, ripping through the waves, its bow pointing toward the first Chinese ships. About 30 of them are positioned in an arc shape to protect the platform that China just installed, “illegally” according to Hanoi, in the disputed waters around the Paracel Islands, off the coast of Vietnam.
A warning suddenly bursts out of the loud speaker, in Vietnamese, Chinese and in English: “To all foreign boats, these are Vietnamese waters and you are violating the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea and Vietnamese sovereignty. Immediately cease all your activities and retreat!”
The decision from the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the third largest state-owned oil company in China, to install the rig in this area on May 2 provoked a dangerous escalation of the tensions between the two Asian countries.