The recent tactical withdrawal of a giant Chinese oil rigfrom waters claimed by both Beijing and Hanoi does not herald a change in China’s strategy of staking out claims in large swaths of the South China Sea that have bedeviled the two ideologically communist allies over the past years. The retreat has come at a convenient juncture for the pro-Chinese faction of the Vietnamese Communist Party to preempt any planned legal action against China and thwart the highly-anticipated alliance with the U.S.
But no matter what the reason might be, at the end of the day “the removal of the oil rig appears to be a retreat by China, although I would argue that such a retreat is tactical and at this stage does not suggest a change of China’s strategy,” according to Yun Sun, a fellow with the East Asia Program at the Washington-based Stimson Center. “By deploying the oil rig in the disputed area, China established a precedent and the “legitimacy” (at least from China’s point view) to do so again in the future. When tensions are lowered, Vietnam will have less incentive to seek legal actions or alignment with the U.S. and Japan,” she said.
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