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AVOIDING ‘TROUBLE’

Duterte recalls China warning if PH explores sea for oil

After disclosing his “mutual agreement” with China’s President Xi Jinping that would allow the Chinese to fish within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), President Duterte reminded Filipinos that Xi had also warned there would be “trouble” if the country insisted on exploring for oil at Recto Bank.

Speaking on Thursday night at the oath-taking of incoming Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, Duterte lashed at his critics who did not seem to appreciate his efforts to avoid armed conflict over the disputed waters by egging him to push the Philippine claims on the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer EEZ.

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The President said he had told Xi in a meeting that he was “going there in our area to dig oil.”

“Xi said in a whisper … ‘You know Mayor Duterte, we just restored our (friendship). It was not good for a number of years. But let’s not talk about that in the meantime,’” Mr. Duterte said. “He (Xi) said, ‘Let’s talk about helping each other. Trade, commerce, investments, China can help.’”

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He said he insisted that the Philippines would conduct oil exploration in the contested waters.

“‘I want my oil because that is ours,”’ he said he told Xi. “He said, ‘No, that could mean trouble.’”

Duterte said Xi’s statement was a clear warning.

The bilateral meeting with Xi also was attended by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and then military chief Eduardo Año.

“You fools! You think you are the only bright ones? Fool, when that comes out … That is trouble. What does that mean, from the mouth of the President (of China),” Mr. Duterte said, addressing his critics.

 

May 2017 conference

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When Duterte first spoke about Xi’s statement on his return from the One Belt, One Road conference in May 2017 in Beijing, he said the Chinese leader warned that “war” could break out.

He said then: “I said, ‘Mr. Xi Jinping, I would insist that that is ours and I will drill oil there. They replied to me, ‘We are friends. We do not want to quarrel with you. … We want to maintain the present warm relationship. But if you force the issue, we’ll go to war.’”

“What more could I say?” Duterte said.

In 2004, the Philippines, China and Vietnam agreed to a Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) in the South China Sea involving the Philippine National Oil Corp., China National Offshore Oil Co. and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corp.

The agreement expired in 2008 amid questions about its constitutionality.

In February 2010, Forum Energy, which is majority-owned by Philex Petroleum Corp. (now PXP Energy Corp.) obtained a Philippines license for Service Contract 72 (SC72), which covers 880,000 hectares within the Recto Bank basin.

Forum Energy was ready to start exploration in the area, but the dispute between the Philippines and China became a stumbling block.

Suspended

In 2014, the Department of Energy suspended exploration at Recto Bank a year after the Aquino administration challenged China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea in the international arbitral tribunal.

In July 2016, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidating China’s extensive claims and saying Beijing had violated Manila’s sovereign rights to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea. Beijing ignored the ruling.

Mr. Duterte has set the ruling aside in exchange for warmer relations with Beijing and Chinese aid and investments.

60-40 sharing

Following the ramming three weeks ago of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese trawler, which then abandoned 22 Filipino fishermen, the President came under fire for downplaying it as a “little maritime incident.”

He was also criticized for agreeing to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in waters within the country’s EEZ.

On Thursday night, the President told reporters China might no longer agree to a 60-40 sharing in a joint oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea.

The President has repeatedly said the Philippines could not afford to go to war with China, and that he would rather pursue economic ties with Beijing.

Duterte recalled that he made a pitch for the joint oil exploration deal because he “cannot assert jurisdiction” over the West Philippine Sea.

“I then said, ‘So let’s split it.’ They agreed. They said, ‘For you mayor, we will agree to 60-40.’ Now, nobody’s talking about it,” he said. “I do not think they will agree now.”

It wasn’t clear whether he was referring to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for oil and gas exploration between the two countries signed during Xi’s state visit to the Philippines in November 2018.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said then the MOU was “just a cooperation to explore solutions” on “how we can enjoy the resources” in the South China Sea.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Friday downplayed Xi’s warnings that there would be “trouble” if the Philippines insisted on searching for oil in contested areas.

“He didn’t threaten. He only gave a future, that something might happen. He said, let’s not talk about that for now because there might be trouble. Let’s discuss things we can agree on,” Panelo said.

“I think it’s more of a friendly advice. Not a warning,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERIA AND INQUIRER RESEARCH

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TAGS: China, oil, Philippine News, Rodrigo Duterte, sea exploration
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