The Philippines is willing to share natural resources with Beijing in contested South China Sea areas even if it wins a legal challenge next week, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay said yesterday.
Yasay said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration hoped to quickly begin direct talks with China after Tuesday’s verdict, with the negotiations to cover jointly exploiting natural gas reserves and fishing grounds within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“We can even have the objective of seeing how we can jointly explore this territory: how we can utilize and benefit mutually from the utilization of the resources in this exclusive economic zone where claims are overlapping,” Yasay said in an interview.
The Philippines, under former president Benigno Aquino III’s administration, in 2013 filed a legal challenge with a UN-backed tribunal in The Hague contesting China’s claims to nearly all of the strategically vital sea.
China’s claims reach almost to the coasts of the Philippines and some other Southeast Asian nations and Taiwan, and it has in recent years built giant artificial islands in the disputed areas to enforce what it says are its indisputable sovereign rights.
The Philippines’ case enraged China, which repeatedly vowed to ignore the tribunal’s ruling and is currently holding military drills in the northern part of the sea as a show of force.
Duterte, who took office on June 30, has adopted a more conciliatory approach to China than Aquino.
Aquino refused to hold direct talks and likened China’s expansionist efforts in the sea to Nazi Germany’s march on parts of Europe ahead of World War II.
Yasay yesterday signaled that Duterte would be making no such analogies, saying that his administration would seek to ensure the best possible relations with China.
“I would like to be forward-looking on these matters,” he said when asked to comment on Aquino’s Nazi statement.
“I would like to make sure whatever actions this administration will take, the statements we will be making will be in the pursuit of strengthening our relationship with everybody and will be for the purpose of making sure there will be no stumbling block to our negotiating a peaceful solution to the issue,” he said.
He also said China and the Philippines had agreed not to make any “provocative statements” following the release of the ruling.
Yasay said after the ruling is released, the Philippines would study it closely, discuss it with allies, and then seek to launch talks with China “as soon as possible.”
Yasay said the Philippines was open to sharing the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島, also claimed by Taiwan), a rich fishing ground within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone that China took control of in 2012 and has banned Filipino boats from entering.
“It’s my understanding that in the long course of history, Scarborough Shoal has been the traditional fishing grounds not only for Filipinos, but also for Vietnamese, Chinese. We can continue with this arrangement,” he said.
Yasay said the Philippines would also consider jointly exploring a natural gas field at Reed Bank (Lile Bank, 禮樂灘), which is similarly within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and far from China’s nearest major landmass.
“I think it would be in the pursuit of our national interest to do that and that will be a big step forward if everyone can agree on proceeding on that basis,” Yasay said when asked about jointly developing Reed Bank.
Yasay insisted the Philippines would not concede any of its rights in the sea.
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