China Opens Dialogue on Joint Oil and Gas Exploration With Philippines as Ties Deepen

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said Beijing is willing to restart talks with the Philippines on jointly exploring oil and gas resources in the non-disputed areas of the South China Sea. The move comes amid warming bilateral ties between the nations, a process that started during the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte.

The Chinese President made the offer during the state visit of the Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to Beijing.

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Map of Spratly Islands detailing occupation by neighboring countries.

Drifting Away from US?

This is a significant development, as Beijing has been lukewarm to Manila's suggestion of joint exploration in the past. Philippines, a strategic ally of the United States, and China have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing and Manila have often locked honrs over the fishing regions and atolls in the Sea.

Even as late as September last year, the Philippines had shown interest in launching joint oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea with China.

Maritime Issues

"We have indicated to China our willingness to continue or to re-open talks sa oil and gas.... Because we realized that especially now ... with the energy crunch and everything that's happening around the world ... we really have to develop our resources," Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Enrique Manalo said during the foreign affairs committee hearing in September last year.

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An aerial photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines Reuters

However, Beijing has apparently cold-shouldered the offer at that time. On Wednesday, Xi Jinping said on state television that Beijing will start oil and gas negotiations with Manila and solve the maritime issues cordially, Yahoo News reported.

Beijing territorial claims in the South China Sea, which is rich in oil, gas and fish and where about $3 trillion in ship-borne trade passes annually, had been a source of tension between it and some Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines.

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Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Wikimedia Commons

Philippines President Marcos, who held talks with both Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, said Manila is committed to deepening ties between the two countries. "We also discussed what we can do to move forward, to avoid any possible mistakes, misunderstandings that could trigger a bigger problem than what we already have," Marcos said.

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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony held in Beijing, China Reuters

Warming of Ties

The Philippines gravitated to China during the reign of Duterte, who steered away from the US-centric foreign policy to attract much needed capital investment from China. With Marcos apparently following in the footsteps of his predecessor, China is reaffirming its investment commitments. XI said on Wednesday broader cooperation with Manila, saying he will increase Chinese investment in sectors like agricultural technology, basic education, meteorology and space and vaccines.