Two months after China placed a mobile drilling rig in Vietnam’s continent shelf and exclusive economic zone causing escalating tensions, the US has dispatched aircraft to the region at least twice in the past several days.
On June 30, Vietnamese coast guard officers spotted two US reconnaissance aircraft, EP-3 and RC-135, flying just 200 meters above the Chinese oil rig between 8:35-10:35 a.m..
On Wednesday, an EP-3 reconnaissance plane was seen flying about three kilometers above the drilling rig Haiyang Shiyou-981, newswire Vietnam+ quoted Vietnamese High Command of Marine Police as saying.
Vietnamese Coast Guard officers also spotted an unidentified aircraft near the area on the same day.
Tensions between Hanoi and Beijing have escalated since May 2, when the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) moved a US$1-billion oil rig into Vietnam's continent shelf and exclusive economic zone in the East Sea (aka the South China Sea).
Vietnam has protested China’s move and dispatched non-military forces to the site to demand China's withdrawal.
China has ignored the requests; its fleet (which now includes military boats and aircraft) has repeatedly rammed Vietnamese ships.
China and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all claim territory in part of the East Sea.
China's claim is the largest, covering most of the sea's 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), which has been emphatically rejected by international scholars.
Since the spat over the first oil rig row broke out, the US and its allies have been vocal in condemning China’s behavior at sea.
But analysts have said US rhetoric about its strategic "pivot" towards the Asia-Pacific will not help defuse the tensions. On the contrary, it could aggravate the situation as Beijing sees America's desire to contain its growth in everything it says.