Hanoi: China today was moving a massive oil rig away from waters claimed by Vietnam after announcing the end of operations, a development that should end a tense standoff between the nations in the South China Sea.
But in withdrawing the rig on its own terms, Beijing has demonstrated it will not be stopped from carrying out exploration activities in waters it considers its own regardless of the regional or international criticism such actions provoke.
China deployed the rig in early May close to the Paracel Islands, triggering fury in Hanoi, which demanded Beijing withdraw it and sent patrol ships to try and disrupt the operations.
China insisted it had done nothing wrong, and accused Vietnam of illegally disrupting its activities.
Adding to tensions in the region, deadly riots targeting perceived and actual Chinese interests broke out in Vietnam, leaving several dead and exposing the level of nationalist sentiment in the country against its giant neighbour.
The deployment of the rig was widely seen as part of a strategy by China of gradually staking out its claims in the South China Sea, all or part of which are also claimed Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
China`s Foreign Ministry said after the rig`s withdrawal was announced that it was because the typhoon season was beginning and that its operations had been completed.
It said oil and gas has been discovered during the operation, but was assessing the data gathered before deciding its next move.
When it announced the deployment, Beijing said it would withdraw it on Aug 15, also citing the typhoon season.
Ha Le, deputy director of Vietnam`s fisheries resources surveillance department, said China began removing the rig and escorting vessels last night, and by 8 am today it was 40 nautical miles northwest of its original location and continuing to move toward Hainan island.
Le said 30 vessels from Vietnam`s coast guard and fisheries patrol forces that were sent to try to force the Chinese oil rig away will return to port to avoid the incoming Rammasun typhoon.
Former Vietnamese ambassador to Beijing Nguyen Trong Vinh said China`s removal of the rig didn`t signal a change of attitude on behalf of the country.
"The removal of the oil rig from our continental shelf and exclusive economic zone is only temporary. Maybe they pulled out the oil rig ahead of the typhoon season. It does not mean that they have abandoned their resolve to take control of most of the East Sea," he said, using the Vietnamese term for the South China Sea.