World

China, Philippines talk joint exploration of disputed waters

Chinese Foreign Minister urges S-E Asian nations to reject outside interference in South China Sea dispute

China is open to jointly exploring with the Philippines for oil and gas in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, even as it urges South-east Asian nations to "say no" to "non-regional forces" seeking to "stir up trouble" in the region.

"In waters where there is overlapping of maritime rights and interests, if one party goes for unilateral development, then the other party will take the same actions, and that might complicate the situation at sea," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a news conference yesterday.

Mr Wang, who is in Manila for a two-day visit, said joint development of natural resources in disputed waters "is full of political wisdom".

He made the remarks a day after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said a partner has been found to develop oil and gas fields inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Philippine energy officials said earlier that drilling at Reed Bank, which was suspended in 2015, might resume before year end, and that the government was preparing to offer new blocks to investors in December.

Reed Bank is thought to have gas reserves of as much as 20 trillion cubic feet. The Philippines had been looking to develop it to replace the Malampaya gas field, which is expected to be depleted by 2030.

In 2004, energy companies in the Philippines, China and Vietnam signed a "joint maritime seismic undertaking" that included Reed Bank.

HOBBLED

But that arrangement was hobbled by opposition in the Philippines, legal challenges and corruption allegations against then president Gloria Arroyo.

It lapsed in 2008, and relations between the Philippines and China deteriorated.

Territorial disputes hampered Manila's plan to drill two appraisal wells at Reed Bank.

In 2011, Chinese patrol vessels almost rammed into a Philippine-contracted survey ship there.

A year later, a Philippine petroleum company approached China's CNOOC about a possible joint development.

But CNOOC declined, since a deal would have meant recognising Philippine sovereignty.

In 2013, citing China's harassment of the survey ship as one reason, the Philippines filed an arbitration case to challenge China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea.

Last year, the arbitration tribunal dismissed China's claims and upheld the Philippines' rights to its exclusive economic zone, which included Reed Bank.

Mr Duterte, however, set aside the ruling, as he opted to pursue warmer ties with China.

Mr Wang, meanwhile, urged nations in South-east Asia to take the lead from closer ties between China and the Philippines and reject outside forces seeking to interfere in the South China Sea dispute, in an apparent swipe at the United States ahead of a regional summit.

"If there are still non-regional forces in the region, they don't want to see stability... and they still want to stir up trouble in the South China Sea, we need to stand together and say no to them together," he said.

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