Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Tuesday said that he supported the idea of joint energy exploration with the Philippines in the heavily disputed South China Sea, warning that unilateral action could cause problems and damage to both sides.
Wang, on a two-day visit to Manila, made the remarks after President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said that a partner had been found to develop oil fields and exploration and exploitation would restart this year.
Mr. Duterte did not identify the partner in his policy speech to a joint session of Congress.
“They’re not yet [in] but we are into it already. We are there already, with a partner. I just can’t divulge it. What’s ours and theirs are already there. They are talking and they are exploring,” he said.
Before end of year
The Department of Energy said on July 12 that drilling at Recto Bank, a large tablemount in the South China Sea internationally known as Reed Bank, might resume before yearend, and the government was preparing to offer new blocks to investors in bidding in December.
Wang and Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano brushed aside legal complications of joint exploration and agreed that Mr. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping were reviving talks for joint development first suggested by Beijing in the late 1980s.
“The natural phase two of a better relationship and environment of dialogue, peace and stability is seeking to be able to use those natural resources to benefit your people,” Cayetano said in a joint news conference with Wang.
He said Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping suggested joint development to President Corazon Aquino in 1986.
“But in the 31 years of discussion, we have not found the wisdom to be able to push through to the next step. We are praying that this generation under President Xi and under President Duterte will have the wisdom to find a way for these natural resources to benefit our people,” he said.
No unilateral action
Wang said China was open to joint exploration but warned against “unilateral development” by rival claimants to territory in the South China Sea.
“In waters where there are overlapping maritime rights and interests, if one party goes for unilateral development, and the other party takes the same action, that might complicate the situation at sea, that might lead to tensions and as an end result nobody will be able to develop the resources,” Wang said.
The Philippines suspended energy exploration at Recto Bank in 2014 while awaiting a ruling in a case it brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague challenging China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
When it ruled on July 12 last year, the court invalidated China’s claim of sovereignty over most of the sea, through which more than $5 trillion in seaborne trade passes every year.
China’s harassment of a survey ship of an Anglo-Filipino consortium at Recto Bank in 2011 and its grabbing Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in another part of the West Philippine Sea in 2012 were among the reasons the Philippines filed the arbitration case, which China refuses to recognize.
In its ruling, the arbitral tribunal clarified Philippine sovereign rights to access offshore oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea, waters within its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, where Recto Bank is located.
In brushing aside legal complications, Cayetano cited the Malampaya natural gas power project off Palawan as a precedent for joint development.
“Malampaya is an example of how the Philippine Constitution allowed the exploration and development of our natural resources despite cooperation with some foreign corporations or foreign entities,” he said. —With a report from the wires
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.