China has begun the withdrawal of its oil platform from the South China Sea area that has caused a dispute with Vietnam and mass anti-China protests in Hanoi, China's Foreign Ministry announced on its website and Vietnamese media reported Wednesday.
"China's Haiyang Shiyou 981 platform, which has been drilling in waters near the Xisha Islands [Paracel Islands] since May 2, successfully completed the work on July 15. Based on the geological data attained, corresponding companies will determine the next work plan," China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei said in a statement.
Relations between China and Vietnam worsened when the oil rig arrived in waters near the Paracel Islands at the beginning of May, and Vietnam sent its ships to prevent the platform installation in what it considers its exclusive economic zone, while Beijing claims the area is part of its maritime belt. Since then, more than 1,000 clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels have taken place.
"The Chinese companies' activity is taking place in the offshore zone near the Xisha Islands [Paracel Islands], which is by no means disputed. China strongly protests the unjustified intervention of the Vietnamese in the activities of Chinese companies and has undertaken the necessary measures to provide them with security," Lei wrote.
Vietnamese media cited coast guard officials as saying that the oil rig, "illegally installed near the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam" was moving northwest, in the direction of China's Hainan Island as of Tuesday evening. Some 60 vessels accompanied the platform.