By Fred M. Lobo
The Philippine government said it will not give up on its claims in the South China Sea but will enter into a joint oil and gas exploration with China in the disputed waters.
Opting for Solomonic wisdom, avoiding war in troubled waters.
The decision was firmed up during a bilateral meeting between President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping last April 10 at the sidelines of the recent Boao Forum for Asia 2018 in Hainan, said Foreign Affairs Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano.
Cool diplomacy and practical cooperation appear as the better option for now, they agreed.
Cayetano said China never asked the Philippines to give up on its South China Sea claims and added that pursuing joint exploration with China is the better option now since the issue is a complex one that evokes a lot of emotions.
“We will not make enemies. We are building friendship with everyone,” Cayetano stressed.
“It’s important that we got something out of there. But you know, it was clear to both sides that we will stick to our guns,” he added.
Translation: Getting oil is better than reaping blood. But sovereignty claims remain.
Cayetano said that both leaders gave the green light for their countries to work on a framework for a joint exploration in the disputed waters, adding that the topic was first raised by Xi.
“How important was that statement made by the two leaders? Very important because it’s basically the go signal to come up with a framework, and if it’s acceptable by both sides, we could see the joint exploration done soon,” Cayetano explained.
“If our legal minds, the DFA, the Department of Energy, Malacañang, and some of our consultants can come up with a framework tomorrow, I will send that to the Chinese tomorrow. If they can send it back to us the next day, and they say they agree, then we can start drafting the MOU or the agreement, and vetting it for official okay,” he added.
Hurry, Malacañang boys! Strike while the oil is hot!
Malacañang noted that Duterte last month welcomed China’s proposal to conduct joint explorations in the disputed waters and confirmed ongoing talks between Filipino and Chinese firms on possible joint exploration in Service Contracts (SCs) 57 and 72.
But amid criticism for supposedly giving in to China, Duterte repeatedly said that he will not surrender a single inch of Philippine territory to foreigners.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang explained that the consensus includes jointly conducting and deepening practical cooperation in the South China Sea, and seek an early realization of joint exploration and development.
“Pending final settlement, China would like to conduct practical cooperation in various fields with parties concerned, including under the principle of shelving differences and seeking joint development,” said Geng.
“Joint development will not affect the legal position of either side on the relevant issue,” Geng clarified.
Translation: Sovereighnty issue and territorial claims remain but let sleeping dogs lie, as the old saying goes.
During his bilateral meeting with Pres. Duterte on April 10, Pres. Xi reportedly said that the two sides should continue to properly handle the South China Sea issue, discuss joint exploration, development, and cooperation, and make the waters a sea of cooperation and friendship.
Sea of cooperation and friendship sounds better than theater of conflict and war.
Duterte, for his part, said the Philippines will work with China to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and boost cooperation between the two countries.
Yes to peace and stability– through Solomonic wisdom and a cool but balanced approach in international diplomacy.