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June 22, 2017

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China moves oil rig out of Vietnam-claimed waters

HANOI--China on Wednesday moved an oil rig out of waters claimed by Hanoi after two months of drilling that triggered a near-breakdown in ties between the neighbors and led to deadly protests in Vietnam.

Withdrawing the rig from near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea reduces the immediate risk of a naval standoff but will do little to mend relations between the two countries. Beijing made it clear it was shifting the billion-dollar rig because it had completed its work, not because of the criticism of its actions.

Vietnam demanded that China never deploy a rig again in waters it claims in the region.

"Vietnam is determined to defend its sovereignty and sovereign rights in accordance with international law," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

China deployed the rig in early May, then Hanoi 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.

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China's Foreign Ministry said the rig was withdrawn because the typhoon season was beginning and the work had been completed.

It said it discovered oil and gas in its explorations but was assessing the data before deciding its next move. Whether Beijing deployed the rig for genuine exploration reasons or geopolitical ones was never clear. When it announced the deployment, Beijing said it would withdraw the rig on Aug. 15, also citing the typhoon season.

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