By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippines and China have agreed to respect national laws as well as territorial integrity and sovereignty under a recent four-year cooperation deal on Beijing’s vast trade and infrastructure program.
The “cooperation principles” were listed in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative between the two countries released by the Malacañang Monday.
The MOU on the Belt and Road cooperation plan was among the 29 deals forged by the Philippines and China during the historic visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Manila last week.
“The Participants shall work together within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, with the strictest respect for national laws, rules, regulations and policies so as to realize sustainable growth and development through the Belt and Road Initiative and translate economic complementarities and people-to-people exchanges into advantages for practical cooperation and the sound sustainable development of all counties involved,” it read.
The two parties would also be guided by the principles of “mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, and complete transparency inter common endeavors to expand mutually beneficially cooperation so as to realize sustainable development and common prosperity through extensive consultation, joint contribution, and the sharing of benefits.”
Under the MOU on the Belt and Road cooperation plan, the two countries:
• Would cooperate on infrastructure development and connectivity in areas of mutual interest, such as transportation, telecommunication, and energy sectors.
• Would enhance communication and exchanges to improve trade flows, investment environments, and adhere to customs rules, regulations and control to facilitate lawful trade.
• Recognized China’s “remarkable economic progress and development even further by offering to assist in the development of other countries to help build stronger economies and, therefore, more and richer markets for commercial and culture exchanges along the ancient Silk Route.
• Acknowledged that “the most sustainable growth of a country should not be at the expense of another, and that national progress is not zero-sum game.” “Sustainable progress requires an understanding that only in a common prosperity lies the sustainable growth and property of great nations,” the MOU read.
• Agree to expand the use of local currencies in bilateral trade and investment and provide financial support for such purpose. “The Participants will establish a cooperation mechanism to deal with financial risk and crisis; and increase exchange and cooperation between credit investigation regulates and interbank institutional investors.”
• Would also promote people-to-people exchanges, cultural cooperation, education, travel, and encourage stronger communication between their people.
The modes of cooperation include high-level visits, exchanges and dialogues among stakeholders; pilot programs, research and development, capacity building, and training in key areas; and investment and financial support for programs and programs.
The MOU also called for an amicable settlement through diplomatic consultations in case of any difference arising from the implementation of the pact.
The memorandum, however, “does not create legally binding obligations for the two parties. “It is an expression of their common aspiration to cooperate on the Belt and Road Initiative for their mutual benefit,” the MOU read.
The MOU will remain in effect for the next four years unless a participant notifies to terminate such agreement three months before the expiration date. It may be renewed for a subsequent four-year period.
Oil, gas exploration
In another deal, Malacañang finally made public the “Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development between the Philippines and China” amid calls for transparency.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo assured that the government committed no treason when it forged the pact with China to negotiate possible oil and gas exploration, dismissing the allegation made by communist leader Jose Maria Sison.
Under the deal signed last week, the two governments agreed “to negotiate on an accelerated basis arrangements to facilitate oil and gas exploration and exploitation in relevant maritime areas consistent with applicable rules of international law.”
An inter-governmental joint steering committee, represented by both countries, will be established to negotiate the cooperation agreement and maritime areas for oil and gas exploration. The three-page document stated that the two sides aim to complete the energy deal within 12 months.
“It’s just an agreement to agree on certain things. There is nothing there that will be a basis for any allegation of treason. Even the critics say there is nothing there,” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.
Panelo argued that the MOU would be the “framework” for the negotiations on possible oil development cooperation between the Philippines and China. He assured the public that the government would ensure any oil exploration deal would be constitutional and beneficial to the nation.
“It will be the basis of negotiations, talking points, and then after that there will be an agreement between the two countries,” he said.
“It will start from those who assigned to initially make some talks then it will reach another level until it reaches (Foreign Affairs) Secretary (Teodoro) Locsin. That’s the time to say anything whether for or against any agreement,” he added.
Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, had earlier alleged that the latest oil and gas exploration deal signed by the two counties was a “clear act of treason” on the part of President Duterte.
Sison, in a statement last weekend, said the MOU was also “a blatant betrayal of the sovereign rights and national patrimony of the Philippines and the Filipino people.”
As other groups expressed concern about the country’s oil agreement with China, Panelo insisted that the government would not allow the country to be on the losing end in any joint oil exploration deal.
He also assured that joint exploration of natural resources in the country was allowed as long as the constitutional limits such as the 60-40 sharing agreement in favor of Filipinos, are followed.
“Ang palaging position natin ay, ‘Is this beneficial to us?’ ‘Is this constitutionally allowable?’ ‘Yan ang palaging tanong. We cannot go beyond that,” he said.
In negotiating an oil exploration deal, the two countries recognized that through dialogue and cooperation, they have made “substantial progress and meaningful gains in exploring opportunities and means to cooperate with each other in maritime activities” that contribute to peace and stability in the region.
The memorandum also mentioned the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
Under the MOU, the new committee will be co-chaired by the Foreign Ministries and co-vice chaired by the energy ministries with participation of relevant agencies. It will comprise an equal number of members nominated by the two governments.
“The committee will be responsible for negotiating and agreeing the cooperation agreements and the maritime areas to which they will apply (hereinafter referred to as the ‘cooperation area’), and deciding the number of Working Groups to be established and for which part of the cooperation area each Working Group is established,” it read.
The two sides would also create “Inter-Entrepreneurial Working Group” that will negotiate and agree on technical and commercial arrangements that will apply in the relevant working area.
China has also authorized the China National Offshore Corporation as the Chinese enterprise for each working group.
The Philippines, on the other hand, will authorize the enterprise that has entered into a service contract with the Philippines with respect to the applicable working area. If there is no such entity for such area, the Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC) will be assigned as the Philippine enterprise for the relevant working group.
“The two governments will endeavor to agree on the cooperation agreements within twelve (12) months of this Memorandum of Understanding. The Committee and each Working Group will meet regularly to discharge their respective functions,” the MOU read.
It also stated that the MOU and all other discussions, negotiations, and activities of the two governments or their authorized enterprises would be “without prejudice to the respective legal positions of both governments.”
“This Memorandum of Understanding does not create rights or obligations under international or domestic law,” it added.
The MOU also invoked confidentiality in the information shared by the two governments on the matter.