The Philippines is interested in renewing talks with China on joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea to expand and diversify its sources of energy, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said in an interview.
The Southeast Asian country seeks a compromise with China, which is claiming parts of the South China Sea that are within Philippine territory, Marcos said, stressing that any agreement must not contravene his nation’s laws.
While the Philippines and China could not agree on which nation’s law would apply, “we continue to explore, perhaps there can be other ways that we can do it,” Marcos said.
“There have been examples around the region where there have similar differing views on [exclusive economic zones] and baselines where they have managed to find a way to have joint explorations with the Chinese, with the Americans,” he said.
In June, Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, ended talks with Beijing on oil and exploration in the South China Sea, with then-Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin saying discussions had gone as far as “it is constitutionally possible to go.”
Marcos has pledged to foster closer ties with China, calling the relationship “advantageous” to both nations. He has also described Beijing as Manila’s “strongest partner” in pandemic recovery, and his top diplomat earlier expressed openness to resume talks on oil exploration.
Still, his new government has been ramping up protests against China’s alleged “incursions” in the South China Sea, as he pledged not to cede territory. The two countries have been locked in a dispute in the resource-rich waters that also serve as a key shipping passage.
Marcos earlier met with US President Joe Biden, where they underscored freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Biden also reaffirmed the US’ “ironclad” pledge to defend its former colony, days after Marcos said he cannot see the Philippines’ future without the US.
Marcos wants to explore for gas within the Philippine South China Sea territory to provide the country with “interim fuel supply” while building its renewable energy capacity.
Marcos said the Philippines, because of its proximity to China and Taiwan, would not be “exempt” if war erupts between the two.
“The defense of the country is going to be the first priority, but again we can’t act independently,” he said.
“The Philippines is not militarily sufficiently capable to fight a war by ourselves, therefore we are putting much of our efforts into the partnerships that we have with our allies and partners,” he said.
Marcos said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would have a “very large part to play” and “should be the main actor when it comes to defense and security around the region.”
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