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Philippines to resume talks with China on joint oil, gas exploration in West PH Sea

The Philippine government and China are set to resume exploratory talks on a possible joint venture for oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea, said Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo.

In an interview, Manalo said the talks would begin on a technical level in about six weeks.

“(China is) proposing that we begin talks again on the oil and gas and we have agreed and I think we will begin maybe about six weeks but as I said at technical level, but those talks are going to begin discussing basically the terms of reference,” said Manalo.

He emphasized that the Philippine position would be guided by the Constitution, which he said will serve as the guiding principle in the negotiations.

“In any negotiations we undertake on oil and gas, the Philippine position has always been that we will be guided by the constitutional requirements and that’s how we will proceed in the next round,” he said.

He clarified that the discussions were still at a technical level and no documents have been signed yet.

In November 2018, the Philippines and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) wherein both governments agreed to establish an intergovernmental joint steering committee to look into possible energy cooperation.

The MOU also provides that working group from each of the countries "will consist of representatives from enterprises authorized by the two governments."

But in 2022, during the last months of the Duterte administration, the Philippines ordered the termination of the discussions with China, citing constitutional constraints and issues on the country’s sovereignty.

According to recent research, the West Philippine Sea, particularly near Reed Bank, is rich in natural resources such as oil and gas.

While exploratory talks on possible joint exploration with China is set to resume, the conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC) of the South China Sea between China, Philippines, and other ASEAN countries remains a long shot for now, according to Manalo.

“There’s so many issues to look at here (COC) because this concerns how to manage incidents occurring at sea etc,” he said.

“You need all the countries to agree and that alone takes time on these and then of course you have the bigger issues too, and political issues, whether the Code will be legally binding or not we’re not yet there,” Manalo added.

The COC will serve as the primary guideline and prevent future tensions and conflict among the claimant countries in the South China Sea.

Manalo clarified that the foreign policy of the Marcos administration is geared towards the direction that would benefit the country. He mentioned the continuous engagements of the President with important world leaders as an example.

Marcos is scheduled to attend the ASEAN Summit in Indonesia this coming May, and preparations are also underway for his state visit to the United States to meet President Joe Biden. -- BAP/KBK, GMA Integrated News