China pivots to Marcos to revive oil exploration talks

In this handout photo provided by the Office of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., President-elect Ferdinand
In this handout photo provided by the Office of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., left, meets with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian as he handed the congratulatory note on behalf of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Metro Manila, Philippines on Thursday May 12, 2022. (Office of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. via AP)

After talks of joint oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) with the outgoing Duterte administration have broken down, China said that they’re now ready to work with the incoming Marcos administration to advance both countries’ interests in the region.

“China stands ready to work in concert with the new Philippine government to advance negotiations on joint development and strive to take early substantive steps so as to deliver tangible benefits to both countries and peoples,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a press briefing in Beijing.

The agreement for joint exploration was signed in 2018 in the midst of a territorial dispute, but on Thursday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that upon instructions from President Rodrigo Duterte, he has completely terminated the talks with the Chinese.

“The president had spoken. I carried out his instructions to the letter: oil and gas discussions are terminated completely. Nothing is pending; everything is over,” Locsin said in a speech.

But the Chinese official stressed the importance of cooperation between Manila and Beijing in order to make a significant headway on the agreement. “Leaders of the two countries reached [an] important common understanding on this. The two governments signed Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development and have actively pursued negotiations and made important progress within the framework,” he said.

Meanwhile, Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, despite being critical of Duterte’s China policies, supports the outgoing administration’s position to terminate the talks, as well as former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario who also emphasized the need to look for new energy resources and protect the WPS.

“[O]ur respectful view is that it remains imperative for our country to find new energy sources, while remaining steadfast in upholding our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, as embodied in the 2016 Hague Ruling,” Del Rosario said. “Our resources in the West Philippine Sea are immeasurable and will support us for generations.”

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments in politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. The views expressed are his own.

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