'China's removal of the oil rig was also welcomed by Washington, which last week accused Beijing of "gluttonous, naked aggression" in the South China Sea, and had encouraged all parties to engage in a peaceful resolution to the crisis'. (Despite oil rig removal, China and Vietnam row still simmers , The Guardian Friday 17 July 2014 )China's decision to go back on its provocative move to position their largest deepwater drilling rig, the HD-981, in waters claimed by Vietnam does not mean an end to the Middle Kingdom's quest for energy security through exploiting the oil reserves of the South China Sea.
In June 2014, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation dispatched its second largest oil rig to waters near the mouth of the Gulf of Tonkin. As China industrialises at rapid speed, the need for oil in areas it could assert control over has become seen as increasingly vital.
One reason is the US geostrategy of containing China since 2011 has made it all the more determined to avoid being overdependent upon oil coming from the Middle East and Africa which could be cut off from Malacca and Lombok/Makassar straits in Southeast Asia.
China imports 60% of its oil through these strategic 'chokepoints' and the US Pivot To Asia has involved trying to forge closer bilateral economic and military ties with both Malaysia and Indonesia, especially through naval cooperation. Malaysia which fears Chinese ambitions
In February 2014 Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) chief Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar received US Navy chief Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert and talked about potential cooperation in submarine operations and an incident where a Chinese vessel was alleged to be involved in a shooting incident.
The US is involved in trying to back its oil interests in East Asia no less than China. US energy giants such as Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil have struck deals with the state-owned oil companies of Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines to explore the oil of the South China Sea.
More broadly, the Pivot to Asia is concerned with compensating for the US's economic decline after the 2008 financial crisis by ramping up its military presence in the Asia-Pacific theatre so as to be able to check China by being in a position to throttle its economy by reducing its oil supply.
The US strategy of engaging with Asian nations as a counterbalancing force to China could bring benefits. The danger, though, is that by building up a coalition of nations it would take only one of those energy hungry states to be emboldened against China in an oil dispute to trigger off a dangerous conflict.
As Michael Klare writes, the region could become a "powder keg' due to the emergence of an arms race and rising nationalism interacting with pathological struggles over oil and gas. Vietnam is a potential flashpoint due to the history of conflict between it and China as recently as 1974 and 1979.
The assertion of Chinese oil interests and sovereignty over the South China Sea against Vietnam is particulary dangerous because Hanoi had improved relations with China by 2013. The imposition of the oil rig could now lead Vietnam to move closer to the US for arms and naval technology.
On July 15, 2014 the WSJ carried a report advocating what a number of assertive US nationalists have wanted for a while-the lifting of the ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam, as was argued for by President Obama's U.S. ambassador to Vietnam nominee Ted Osius.
Since 2007 the 'normalisation' of relations between Vietnam and the US has occured following on from the Bush administration's decision to allow non lethal defence products to be sold. How Beijing would react to that move remains to be seen but more provocative would be closer military and political cooperation.
Indeed, the oil rig crisis is not the only reason for a reapprochement between the US and Vietnam. It is a vital part of the entire Pivot To Asia strategy, as seen in the formation of a “comprehensive partnership” in 2013, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The creation of this vast free trade block is designed as an economic counterweight to China ( though China has been invited to participate ) and to underscore the global economic hegemony of the US and its economic model and values in a world in which China could be the next global power.
Yet conflicts over resources in East Asia could well destroy the idea of a permanent and uninterrupted period of economic growth whereby China and the US interests would dovetail as opposed to drifting apart. An oil price shock from the Middle East could trigger off economic chaos, intensified nationalism and conflict over the South China Sea.