China, Philippines Moves Forward With Oil Pact

China - Philippines
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before the meeting at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China on April 25, 2019. (Photo: Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool via REUTERS)

China and the Philippines continue the negotiations on the proposed joint oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea despite the non-easing diplomatic territorial tensions in the disputed water body.

The Philippines and China signed a basic memorandum of understanding (MOU) in Manila for a joint exploration as part of bilateral outcomes last year during the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Philippines. The agreement and the framework of the MOU, however, still need to be strengthened.

According to Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana, it will take many steps to finalize any agreement from the MOU. He also said that the exploration framework will not likely be finalized during the visit of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing. He, however, noted that the negotiations regarding the joint exploration are moving forward.

The West Philippine Sea is a promising region when it comes to oil and gas reserves. President Duterte adopted a two-track strategy in dealing with China since he won the presidential election in 2016. The Philippine president repaired the diplomatic ties of China and the Philippines when he won the office.

Ambassador Sta. Romana said that the bilateral relations basically consist of two general areas which include the disputes and the areas where there are no disputes. He noted that the disputes do not define everything and they're only a part of the overall picture. He added that they were able to fast-track in terms of areas where there are no disputes, like trade, economics, science, culture. He added that they discuss disputes through diplomatic channels or through the bilateral consultative mechanism.

The MOU signed by the two leaders last year state that joint explorations between the two nations should be in accordance with the principles of mutual respect, fairness and mutual benefit, flexibility and pragmatism and friendly consultations.

The two leaders also agreed that the joint exploration for gas and oil will not affect the stand of each side on sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of both parties.

President Duterte met Chinese President Xi Jinping on his visit to China. According to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, the Chief Executive culminated the talk with the Chinese President articulating his position that the Philippines remain China's ally in Southeast Asia. He said that China emphasized that both countries are allies, and allies strengthen and do not destroy each other. He also said that President Xi cited the Memorandum of Understanding on Oil and Gas as an example where both the Philippines and China suspended their differences for a joint exploration that would mutually benefit both countries and their peoples.

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