Last week, the foreign ministers of the China and Philippines announced that the two countries have agreed on what they described as a “prudent” joint exploration project in the disputed South China Sea.
The announcement comes a month after the Philippines announced that it had already begun talks with a Chinese state firm over joint exploration in the disputed area. The Chinese Prime Minister said the South China Sea dispute will not “block” the development of the two countries. The two countries are now working on a “common legal framework” under which to conduct the joint project- oil and gas exploration.
The announcement is not a surprise move because President Duterte’s government has repeatedly stressed its position since 2016, claiming that he will not employ aggressive approaches in resolving the South China Sea dispute. As a turnaround from the stance of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, the government will establish and maintain friendly relations with China and collaborate with Chinese government or companies to explore the area for economic benefits of both countries.
China, Philippines agree ‘prudent’ cooperation on joint sea exploration
BEIJING: China and the Philippines said on Wednesday (Mar 21) they will cautiously proceed with discussions on joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, further reversing years of tensions over their competing claims to the region.
The two states have long been embroiled in a bitter dispute over the waterway – with China claiming nearly the entire sea – but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has in recent years softened his predecessors’ policy of opposing Beijing’s claims.
The countries will “in a prudent and steady way advance cooperation on offshore oil and gas exploration”, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told reporters after meeting Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
“The South China Sea disputes will no longer be a source of negative energy blocking the development of bilateral ties,” he added.
The Philippines said earlier this month it was in talks with a Chinese state firm over joint exploration and extraction in the strategic and supposedly resource-rich sea.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim all or part of the sea, and proposed cooperation between Manila and Beijing has caused alarm among neighbouring Southeast Asian countries in the past.
Cayetano said at the press conference that China and the Philippines “are finding a common legal framework to conduct joint exploration and surveys”.
“Our relationship … is in a golden period, and with very positive momentum,” he said, adding that the countries “are now ready to face more challenges together”.
However no further details on the nature of the agreed cooperation were given.
Cayetano said last month that Manila would consult legal experts to make sure any accord would not infringe Philippine sovereign rights.
Duterte has described a proposed deal as akin to “co-ownership” of contested areas, saying this was preferable to the “massacre” of Filipino troops in a war with China.
Duterte’s willingness to cooperate with China marks a turnaround from the stance of predecessor Benigno Aquino who accused Beijing of encroaching, occupying, and building structures on reefs and rocks that Manila claims as part of its exclusive economic zone.
Aquino won an international arbitration tribunal ruling in 2016 invalidating Beijing’s claims, but Duterte set aside the ruling while courting investments and trade from the Philippines’ giant neighbour, the world’s second-largest economy.
Source: Channel NewsAsia, AFP/de, March 22, 2018. Photo credit to Parker Song/Reuters.