The Philippines yesterday said it is talking with a Chinese state-owned firm about joint South China Sea energy resource exploration and extraction, in a proposed deal described by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as akin to “co-ownership” of contested areas.
The two nations have long been embroiled in a bitter dispute over their competing claims in the region — with China claiming nearly the entire sea — but Duterte has softened his predecessors’ policy of opposing Beijing’s claims.
Duterte on Wednesday said an arrangement to turn two of the rival claimants into virtual joint owners of the strategic and supposedly oil and gas-rich sea was preferable to the “massacre” of Philippine troops in a war with China.
“Now their [Beijing’s] offer is joint exploration, which is like co-ownership. It’s like the two of us would be the owners. I think that’s better than fighting,” Duterte said during a visit to the war-torn southern city of Marawi.
Negotiations between the Philippines and China over South China Sea exploration were raised last month by Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque yesterday provided more details, specifying that talks were under way between the Philippine Department of Energy and an unnamed Chinese state-owned firm, and that extraction of energy resources was now on the table.
He did not specify which specific area of the sea was under discussion.
Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim all or part of the South China Sea.
Proposed cooperation between Manila and Beijing has caused alarm among neighboring Southeast Asian nations in the past.
“We might enter into an agreement with a Chinese-owned corporation, not the Chinese state itself,” Roque said in an interview aired on ABS-CBN TV, adding that the company he declined to name was state-owned.
“I know that they’re discussing, they’re moving forward and it’s likely to happen,” he added, without giving a timetable or the exact terms of the proposed deal. “This will now actually entail joint exploration and possible exploitation of natural resources.”
Cayetano last month said that Manila would consult legal experts to make sure any accord would not infringe on Philippine sovereign rights.
“It’s not that we have no choice. We can go back and say: ‘Fine, no one benefits from the resources now,’ but come on, we’re trying to look for alternative sources of energy,” Roque said yesterday.
He said Philippine firms could not do it on their own and would need Chinese capital, adding that “when a Filipino company attempted to explore on its own they were met by Chinese war boats [gunboats].”
He was referring to an incident in 2011 when Manila said Chinese patrol boats harassed a seismic survey vessel chartered by a unit of a Philippine mining company at Reed Bank (Lile Bank, 禮樂灘) in the South China Sea.
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