Drilling in the South China sea is a business decision, Chairman Wang Yilin told reporters today in Hong Kong after the annual shareholder meeting of its listed unit, Cnooc Ltd. (883), of which he is also chairman. Cnooc’s parent will oppose Vietnamese disruptions to drilling, he said, adding that he expects the operation there to be protected by the Chinese government.
The company this month placed an oil rig near the disputed Paracel Islands off the coast of Vietnam, leading to confrontations between Vietnamese and Chinese boats. The move set off violent anti-China protests in Vietnam and prompted China to evacuate thousands of its citizens.
The dispute comes amid rising tensions between China and its Asian neighbors, who are pushing back against Chinese efforts to exploit resources in disputed maritime areas. Leaders from Southeast Asian nations this month called for its member states to exercise self-restraint on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
China’s increased assertiveness in Asian waters is alienating many countries in the region at a time when the world’s second-biggest economy is seeking to further expand trade and investment. China is Vietnam’s largest commercial partner and trade between the two countries rose 20.7 percent in April, the third-biggest gain among China’s major trading nations.
The Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the South China Sea, with the Philippines in March challenging China’s territorial actions at a United Nations tribunal. Vietnam may now join Philippines in that case, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters in Manila today.
China bases its claims to the South China Sea on its “nine-dash line” map, first published in 1947. That map extends hundreds of miles south from China’s Hainan Island to equatorial waters off the coast of Borneo, through which some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes run. Talks on a code of conduct to preserve freedom of navigation in the area have made little progress since China agreed to start discussions in July.