Philippines, China 'serious' on joint exploration — Chinese envoy

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Philippines, China 'serious' on joint exploration � Chinese envoy
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua speaks at the celebration of the 69th founding anniversary of the People's Republic of China in Makati City.
Philstar.com / Patricia Lourdes Viray

MANILA, Philippines — Despite the lack of agreement between the Philippines and China on joint explorations in the South China Sea until now, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said both parties are keen on pursuing the proposed project.

The Chinese envoy said discussions on the possible joint exploration in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea, are still ongoing.

"We haven't come to a conclusion yet but both sides are serious in the possibility of joint exploration," Zhao said at the sidelines of the celebration of the 69th founding anniversary of the People's Republic of China.

Zhao added that both Manila and Beijing have prioritized to maintain peace and stability in the region. The two countries have launched a bilateral consultation mechanism to resolve the South China Sea dispute, foregoing the July 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal that invalidated China's nine-dash line claim over the contested waterway.

"In the meantime, it would be our common interest to explore the possibility of joint exploration, which will be neutrally acceptable," Zhao added.

“The critics...have been repeating time and again that we are in danger of losing oil and gas. That’s why we want joint exploration and development so that we won’t lose it because somehow, in technology and in financial capability, China, Malaysia and Vietnam have advantage over us,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in July in support of the push for joint exploration despite a sea dispute with China.

Cayetano: No deadline on joint exploration deal

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier admitted that the Philippines and China agreed not to set a deadline on the possible joint exploration.

The Philippines has proposed a 60-40 sharing deal with China on the proposed joint exploration. Critics have warned that the Philippines would at the "losing end" of the deal if this would push through.

"The joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea is not a simple issue as what the Duterte administration has been suggesting. Just because the Philippines will presumably take a larger share given the 60-40 scheme being proposed, does not guarantee that we are going to be on the winning end," Magdalo Partylist earlier said.

Last month, the Philippines' top diplomat visited Beijing and met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to discuss economic matters.

"I was also there and had a bilateral meeting also with my counterpart State Councilor Wang Yi and we agreed not to put any deadline but to work on an 'as soon as possible' attitude in coming up with a legal framework," Cayetano said in a press conference last month.

Wang was supposed to go on an official visit to the Philippines from September 16 to 18, where he was expected to discuss the possible joint exploration in the South China Sea with Cayetano.

The Chinese foreign minister's supposed visit to the country was rescheduled due to the onslaught of Typhoon Ompong (international name Mangkhut), which affected both the Philippines and China.

Xi Jinping visit to the Philippines

Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy is still working with the Philippine government on the forthcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the country, according to Zhao.

Cayetano earlier said the Chinese president may visit Manila by yearend, which would be his first visit to the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in June 2016.

"The plan is that he will come to the Philippines for a state visit but the specific dates and month have not been finalized yet so we're in close coordination with the Filipino side to prepare for the most likely state visit," Zhao said.

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