Professor Michel Henry Bouchet at Skema Business School (France) has stated that China’s decision to move its giant state-owned oil rig Haiyang Shiyou-981 into “disputed waters” in the East Sea has less to do with an oil exploration strategy than with a strategic push to assert its territorial claims in the region.

Professor Bouchet said in an interview published in the Saigon Times Daily on May 21 that China’s “provocative behaviour” challenges not only Vietnam but, more broadly, ASEAN-Western geopolitical stakes.

“Indeed, China’s move challenges the cornerstone of global diplomacy, namely freedom of navigation, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and non-use of coercion,” said the professor.

On May 2, China stationed the Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig at 15 degrees 29 minutes 58 seconds north latitude and 111 degrees 12 minutes 06 seconds east longitude. The location is 80 nautical miles deep inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and 119 nautical miles to Vietnam’s Ly Son Island.

Chinese ships have repeatedly rammed and fired water cannons into Vietnamese coast guard and fisheries surveillance ships which are carrying out their law enforcement missions in the country’s waters, leaving many Vietnamese ships damaged and many fisheries surveillance officers injured.

According to Professor Bouchet, China’s use of the oil rig, with the risk of drawing regional and international attention and condemnation, “lies probably in a series of steps to gauge the reaction of ASEAN and Western powers regarding China’s geopolitical ambitions.”

“The oil rig provocation thus must be looked at as a test of Obama administration’s reaction vis à vis China’s global economic and geopolitical power,” he said.

The professor went on to say: “The truth is that China has also much to lose should the regional turmoil turn into a global crisis. The recent statement in Washington that the US was seriously concerned about China's unilateral actions in the territorial dispute with Vietnam should be interpreted as a warning shot to convince China that it’s time to enter into diplomatic discussions and to stem escalation and confrontation.”

“In a globalised economic and diplomatic system, crisis always leads to negative sum game,” he concluded.-VNA