Work with China but stick to our claims, envoy advises
ALTHOUGH neither China nor the Philippines may be ready to give up their respective maritime claims, it may be possible to work out cooperative agreements on fishing, private oil and gas exploration, and avoiding conflict due to accidental incidents, a foreign officer said on Sunday.
Ambassador Rosario Manalo, a participant in a recent conference on the South China Sea attended by experts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), made the remarks after a high-level team led by former President Fidel Ramos returned from China and described the overall tone of initial talks as “encouraging.”
“The political will [of China and the Philippines] is the key to settling the disputes in the South China Sea,” Manalo said.
Manalo expressed support for the diplomatic track taken by the Duterte administration which is to open direct talks with China within the framework of a regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Ramos; mission last week was to explore the possibility of opening talks with China and find a peaceful solution to the disputes over ownership of Scarborough Shoal off Zambales and the Spratly islands off Palawan, among others.
“President Duterte is a realist and a pragmatic man,” Manalo said . “ The Duterte administration is moving in the right direction that will benefit both China and the Philippines.”
Her view was that if the tension eased, the Philippines and China could sign a cooperation agreement over accidental incidents in the disputed waters of the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.
At the same time, Manalo said private firms from the two countries could be left to talk about exploration of resources, including oil and gas sharing. The cooperation could include a fisheries agreement to allow fishermen from the two nations to exploit sea resources in the contested areas.
The diplomatic negotiations may take five to 15 years, she said. But it’s important to keep the two parties “talking rather than fighting” which is the rule of thumb in international diplomacy.