Senator: Joint PH-China exploration pact will settle Spratly dispute
MANILA, Philippines—A joint gas and natural resources exploration with China of in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is the “only practical solution” left for the Philippines to settle the dispute, a senator allied with the Aquino administration said on Wednesday.
Instead of filing diplomatic protests against China, Senator Ralph Recto said the country should engage a possible joint exploration agreement in the disputed islands.
“Every stand-off, the territorial tension only escalates and we’re not gaining anything – zero. We could pursue a different tact by working out a possible joint exploration without impinging on our sovereignty,” Recto said in a statement.
The senator, a senior member of the Senate national defense and security and of foreign relations committees, said the Philippines should no longer wait for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to side with Manila since its members are also trading with China.
The only practical solution left for the country, Recto said, is to pursue a possible joint exploration deal of the whole of Spratlys for gas and other natural resources.
“I’m not saying that we back track from our claim. In fact, we should do it relentlessly. But while the natural finds of Spratlys lay underneath, idle and untapped, a joint exploration appears to be the more logical engagement with China,” he said.
“The engagement policy should be pegged on how both countries could benefit from the subterranean wealth of Spratlys — not on how fast each country could annihilate each other in case mad men from both sides take over,” he added.
Recto said the country could put on the table its proximity to the Spratlys for the build-up of infrastructures and other logistics needed for the joint exploration.
As an emerging power, China would naturally gravitate toward the country that is nearest to the disputed islands in case it would want to conduct exploration projects unmolested, said the senator.
“We must tone down the rhetoric’s but we must have well-toned diplomatic and trade muscles to convince China to a joint economic exploration,” Recto said.
“Although far-fetched but only to stress my point, we should not wait for China to forge a joint deal with Vietnam and put up a united socialist claim over Spratlys,” he said.
Recto said the Philippines would not lose its sovereignty even if it engages in a joint exploration agreement with China, citing a similar case when the country tapped foreign oil companies to jointly explore the Malampaya natural gas deposits off Palawan.
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