The US Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Thursday which, among other things, called on China to withdraw a giant drilling rig and associated maritime forces from their current positions in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
On May 1, China's state-owned energy company, CNOOC, placed the deepwater semi-submersible drilling rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HD-981), accompanied by over 25 Chinese ships, in Block 143 --some 120 nautical miles off Vietnam's coastline, the resolution stated.
By May 9, the number of Chinese vessels escorting the rig had increased to more than 80, including seven military ships, which aggressively patrolled and intimidated Vietnamese Coast Guard ships, reportedly intentionally rammed multiple Vietnamese vessels, and used helicopters and water cannons to obstruct others, according to the resolution.
China's territorial claims and associated maritime actions in support of the drilling activity that HD-981 commenced on May 1 have not been clarified under international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and constitute a unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force, and appear to be in violation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (or East Sea).
The resolution calls on China to withdraw its drilling rig and associated maritime forces from their current positions, refrain from maritime maneuvers contrary to the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, and return to the status quo as it existed before May 1, 2014.
The US Senate said the resolution (S.RES.412) reaffirms the strong support of the United States government for freedom of navigation and other internationally lawful uses of sea and airspace in the Asia-Pacific region, and for the peaceful diplomatic resolution of outstanding territorial and maritime claims and disputes.
It states that the Senate condemns coercive actions or the use of force to impede freedom of operations in international airspace to alter the status quo or to destabilize the Asia-Pacific region.