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Philippines to Explore Talks With China Over Gas and Oil Development in West Philippine Sea

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With the rising costs of both gas and oil, the Philippines might look into sustainable interventions and cooperation with China for the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in the near future, according to Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Enrique Manalo.

“I think, in effect, we have talks with China before but they have not progressed,” Manalo said during a Commission on Appointments foreign affairs committee hearing. “But we have still indicated… that Philippines is open to talks on oil and gas because we think we need to see how we can develop those resources, especially gas and oil, which especially nowadays, are (sorely) needed and certainly the Philippines will need it not only for now, but for the long term.”

Manalo, who was facing the panel for his confirmation last Wednesday, September 1, expressed that, China is the only country that is “mainly interested” in dealing with the Philippines. The Palace has also said that it would do a review of the possible joint venture.

The DFA chief also stressed that the Philippines is waiting for China to make a pitch. He did, however, say that if no deal pushes through soon, then they would be looking to other partners for the needed infrastructure.


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Recent History of China-Philippines WPS Gas, Oil Talks

The maritime dispute between China and the Philippines is well-documented. Issues like the intimidation of fisherfolk and trespassing of resources, as well as compromise on sovereignty and unnecessary use of force, have long been points of contention for the two countries.

But it is in the common interest of both parties to develop the WPS. We may recall that former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration sought a “joint oil exploration” with China, as well.

In 2019, negotiations started between the two countries. A few years later, the talks stalled. Then-DFA Secretary Teodoro “Teddy” Locsin Jr. stressed that no agreement had been reached, which led to the termination of the partnership completely back in June 2022.

“Three years on and we had not achieved our objective of developing oil and gas resources so critical for the Philippines—but not at the price of sovereignty; not even a particle of it,” he noted at the time. “We got as far as it is constitutionally possible to go. One step forward from where we stood on the edge of the abyss is a drop into constitutional crisis.”

In 2013, Duterte’s predecessor, former President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III had also been open to the idea of Chinese companies joining oil and gas exploration in Recto Bank in the WPS. The proposed deal, which was coursed through Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing, claimed that the Recto Bank deal would have contained potential reserves of 3.4 trillion cubic feet of gas and 440 million barrels of oil.

But Aquino did have his reservations. “We’re talking about Recto Bank here. We can’t split Recto Bank with them. Recto Bank is ours. If they want to join, why not? We’re open to investors but they should comply with our laws,” Aquino told Radio Mindanao Network reporters then.

Aquino would soon have a more strained relationship with China, especially after he confronted the superpower in an international tribunal over the WPS.

Further back, in 2005, then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed a Tripartite Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in The Agreement Area for South China Sea between China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. To be clear, this cooperation didn’t exactly focus on the WPS, as the WPS does not cover the entire South China Sea.

The parties, namely China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation, and the Philippine National Oil Company, conducted joint petroleum programs in an area of about 143,000 square kilometers in a span of three years.

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