Manila says in talks with China state firm on joint sea exploration

MANILA: The Philippines yesterday said it is in talks with a Chinese state firm for joint South China Sea energy resource exploration and extraction, in a proposed deal described by President Rodrigo Duterte as akin to "co-ownership" of contested areas.

The two countries have long been embroiled in a bitter dispute over their competing claims to the region - with China claiming nearly the entire sea - but Mr Duterte has in recent years softened his predecessors' policy of opposing Beijing's claims.

He said on Wednesday that an arrangement to turn two of the rival claimants virtual joint owners of the strategic and supposedly oil and gas-rich sea was preferable to the "massacre" of Filipino troops in a war with China.

"Now their (Beijing's) offer is joint exploration, which is like co-ownership. It's like the two of us would be the owners. I think that's better than fighting," he said during a visit to the war-torn southern city of Marawi.

Negotiations between the Philippines and China over South China Sea exploration were mentioned last month by Filipino Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque provided more details yesterday, specifying that talks were underway between the Philippines' energy department and an unnamed Chinese state firm, and that extraction of energy resources was now on the table.

He did not specify which specific area of the sea was under discussion.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim all or part of the sea. Proposed cooperation between Manila and Beijing has caused alarm among neighbouring South-east Asian countries in the past.

"We might enter into an agreement with a Chinese-owned corporation, not the Chinese state itself," Mr Roque said in an interview aired on ABS-CBN television, adding that the company, which he declined to name, was state-owned. - AFP