China, Philippines form alliance for South China Sea oil exploration
The Philippines and China will advance plans for joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, a senior envoy announced before a meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing late Thursday.
Duterte and Xi will likely discuss forming committees to pick areas for the exploration, Philippine envoy to China Chito Sta. Romana said in a televised briefing. They’re also expected to sign at least five deals on economic cooperation and technology, he added.
“We are trying to find a way within certain parameters to move forward,” the ambassador said. “We hope to get it going as fast as possible.”
Duterte earlier said he will use the Philippines’ 2016 international tribunal win against China, which he set aside to warm ties and tap Chinese funding, to negotiate a favorable deal with Xi.
The meeting’s expected outcome shows exploration talks are proceeding “as slow as can be expected,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
“This will only be the start of the process. This does not guarantee that a final agreement will be signed,” Batongbacal said.
While an oil deal where Manila gets a bigger share might appear to be a win for Duterte, it could undermine Philippine interests in the future because an agreement may give credence to China’s sea claim, said Collin Koh, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“This deal may even embolden China to demand a share of energy resources in other Southeast Asian nations’ exclusive economic zones, in waters that Beijing lays no legitimate resource claim to,” Koh said.
Duterte may also raise with Xi the presence of Chinese warships and survey vessels in Philippine waters, which has triggered diplomatic protests from Manila over the past weeks.
It’s unlikely that Duterte’s meeting with Xi will yield a concrete plan to address the issue, said Jeffrey Ordaniel, assistant professor of international security studies at Tokyo International University.
“Xi wants a good media narrative out of his meeting with Duterte,” Ordaniel said. “Certainly, China wants to create a false atmosphere of calm and cooperation in the South China Sea.”
China wants to “expand practical cooperation to ensure steady and sustained progress” in its ties with the Philippines through Xi’s meeting with Duterte, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said last week.
The meeting is also taking place amid Beijing’s crackdown on the Philippines’ billion-peso online casinos catering mostly to Chinese nationals despite a gambling ban in mainland China. Manila has stopped granting new permits for online casinos, but China wants a total ban.
Source: MANILA (Bloomberg)