China has dangerously increased tensions in the South China Sea by deploying an oil rig for the first time in a disputed area claimed by Vietnam. The move is certain to make countries in the region feel even more threatened by China’s expansionist territorial claims. The rig, belonging to a state-owned oil company, was parked in waters off the Paracel Islands on May 2. After Vietnam objected, China dispatched 80 ships to the area; Hanoi responded by sending 35 ships to obstruct the rig’s operations.
The situation escalated on Wednesday, when Vietnam accused China of ramming and using water cannons on several Vietnamese ships. On Thursday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official accused the Vietnamese of ramming Chinese vessels 171 times in a four-day period and argued that China’s use of water cannons showed maximum restraint and was justified because the drilling was in “China’s inherent territory.” On Friday, Beijing accused America of encouraging Vietnam’s behavior.