HANOI, Vietnam – China has ended drilling and exploration operations at an oil rig it deployed in a section of the South China Sea disputed with Vietnam and will relocate the unit, Chinese state media reported.
Beijing deployed the massive rig in early May close to the Paracel Islands, triggering a furious reaction in Hanoi and the most serious uptick in tensions in the waters in years.
Hanoi demanded Beijing withdraw the rig, and sent ships to the region to try and disrupt the operations. The Chinese move triggered protests in Vietnam and deadly anti-Chinese riots.
Beijing insisted it had done nothing wrong because the waters belonged to it.
Xinhua said the China National Petroleum Corp on Tuesday announced the end of the operation, citing the beginning of the typhoon season.
It said the rig would be relocated to operations close to China's Hainan Island.
The report said the company found oil and gas during the operation, but was assessing the data gathered before deciding its next move.
It has always been unclear whether the Beijing deployed the rig for genuine commercial reasons or as part of strategy of staking out its territorial claims in the region. When it announced the deployment, Beijing said it would withdraw it on Aug. 15.
The deployment of the rig was seen as a highly provocative move by China, which it claims nearly all of the South China Sea, bringing it into conflict with Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations.
Beijing's growing economic and military might is unnerving many countries in the region, as well as the United States, which is seeking closer ties with Southeast Asia to try to contain China.
The United States criticized the rig placement "as part of a broader pattern of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed territory in a manner that undermines peace and stability in the region."