Chinese Offshore Oil Rig Deployed to East China Sea

China has reportedly deployed a new offshore drilling rig into the East China Sea, although its precise location has not been publicly disclosed.  This rig, known as the Kaixuan‑1 (or Triumph‑1), was reportedly constructed by COSCO Shipyard and delivered on July 17 to its customers, China Oilfield Services and China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

These two state-owned enterprises were the same entities used to deploy a drilling rig into disputed waters offshore Vietnam in May 2014, which led to a protracted period of contentious bilateral relations involving ramming incidents at sea, violence within Vietnam between Vietnamese and Chinese citizens and even a prohibition by Beijing on Chinese state-owned enterprises operating within Vietnam.

It is increasingly clear that offshore drilling, advanced rigs and the flotilla of ships (including naval vessels, in the case of Vietnam) that usually accompany these large national assets will likely be a strategy deployed by states to make provocative claims against their neighbors and, in the process, seek to force a ‘‘‘fait accompli‘ in terms of where the maritime border is practically understood to exist.  This same strategy could be deployed soon offshore Cuba by Russian energy majors granted licenses to operate in the area and, potentially, in the Black and Azov Seas by Russian rigs pressing into the new border areas associated with the waters offshore Crimea.

According to statements made by COSCO Shipyard, the Kaixuan‑1 drilling rig has been operating in the East China Sea and functioning properly, with drilling reaching a depth of some 5,200 meters.