It is difficult to be blithe about the dispatch of China’s HYSY981 drilling rig into disputed waters off the Vietnamese coast.
It actually would have been less of a provocation if the PRC had sent the aircraft carrier Liaoning down there instead.
One of the interesting by-products of the US “freedom of navigation” campaign in the South China Sea was the U.S. staking out a position that military operations by foreign vessels inside an Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ were not the kind of economic intrusion that UNCLOS intended to preclude.
In fact, after the harassment of the USNS Impeccable, a US Navy survey vessel that cruises through China’s EEZ towing various gadgets, the US went out of its way to assert that the ship was not doing anything that could be construed as economic or even dual use, such as mapping the ocean floor, and insisted the ship was there to track PLAN submarine movements.
By that logic, the Liaoning chugging through any waters in the South China Sea, in EEZs disputed or not, is something that nobody can complain about. And indeed, that’s what the Liaoning did, on its shakedown cruise in the South China Sea at the end of 2013.
Read more: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/05/08/twilight-of-soft-power/