THE Philippines and China signed yesterday a memorandum of understanding on cooperation on oil and gas development, as the two countries seek to improve ties despite a bitter maritime dispute in the resource-rich South China Sea.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had an exchange of memorandum of understanding on cooperation on oil and gas development between the Foreign Service Institute of the Philippines and the China Foreign Affairs University.
The oil and gas deal was one of the 29 deals involving trade and investment, banking and finance, infrastructure, agriculture, education, culture, and people-to-people exchanges that the Philippines and China signed during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Today therefore is a landmark moment in our shared history. We have turned a new page and we are ready to write a new chapter of openness and cooperation. I look forward to fruitful discussions today as we review the progress we have made and chart the course towards to further enhance partnership all in the spirit of friendship, mutual understanding and respect for sovereign equality,” Duterte said in his remark at the expanded bilateral meeting between the two countries.
The Philippines, under Duterte, and China are hoping to jointly explore and develop portions of the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas.
It is not yet clear, however, whether the oil and gas deal signed yesterday will cover the hotly contested waterway.
China claims nearly all of vital sea lane, contradicting with partial claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
The Philippines in 2016 defeated China in a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal, which invalidated Beijing’s economic claim to the strategic sea lane.
President Rodrigo Duterte, however, has chosen to set aside the ruling in exchange for better economic ties with Asia’s largest economy.
China has ignored the ruling and insisted it has sovereignty over the strategic sea lane. Duterte, meanwhile, has raised little opposition to China’s continued military activities in the area.
Duterte had said that despite his government’s rapprochement with China, he would never surrender the country’s claims to the sea and would bring up Manila’s arbitration victory against Beijing at the appropriate time.