MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday that his country is willing to share oil resources with China in part of the South China Sea where their claims overlap, citing his country’s inability to stand up to Chinese military might.
Speaking at an award ceremony at the presidential office, Duterte said that if oil deposits are found in the area of Scarborough Shoal, one of several areas of the sea contested by the two countries, “let’s just develop…let’s just split those.”
He said sending Philippine marines to wrest back control of the shoal, which China seized in 2012, is not a viable alternative.
“They’d be just wiped out in just one minute. There’ll be a disaster,” he said.
Scarborough Shoal, called the Panatag Shoal by the Philippines and Huangyan Dao Reef by China, is a triangular atoll located some 220 kilometers west of the Philippine main island Luzon.
In 2013, the government of then Philippine President Benigno Aquino filed a case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, accusing it in part of unlawfully preventing Filipino fishermen from pursuing their livelihoods by interfering with traditional fishing activities at Scarborough Shoal.
In July this year, the U.N.-backed tribunal ruled in Manila’s favor, saying Filipino fishermen, like those from China, have traditional fishing rights at the shoal and Chinese navy and coast guard should stop restricting their access.
It also found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the Southeast Asian country’s exclusive economic zone by interfering with its fishing and petroleum exploration, constructing artificial islands, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.
China has rejected the ruling.
Since Duterte came to power in June, he has adopted a less adversarial stance than his predecessor on the South China Sea disputes, which has led to a warming of bilateral relations and China’s lifting of fishing restrictions around Scarborough Shoal.
China has repeatedly floated the idea of “promoting joint development while shelving differences” in its disputes with other countries in the South China Sea, including the Philippines.
It has said that doing so would “create conditions for the final settlement of disputes,” without prejudicing the final delimitation of sea borders.