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Oil, Gas Deal with Philippines Could Help China Politically

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Experts say a plan for China and the Philippines to jointly explore oil and gas in the South China Sea could help China politically.

The foreign affairs secretary for the Philippines, Alan Peter Cayetano, spoke to reporters about the proposal last month.

Cayetano said a first version of the agreement for the joint exploration plans was expected to be completed by September, CNN Philippines reported.

Philippine media has reported that Cayetano said China is open to sharing oil and gas resources. The plan would give the Philippines 60 percent of revenue from possible oil or gas discoveries. China would receive 40 percent.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano gestures during a news conference on the South China Sea on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in suburban Taguig city east of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano gestures during a news conference on the South China Sea on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in suburban Taguig city east of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Some experts say they would not be surprised if China agreed to such a joint exploration deal. They say it could win China political influence with the Philippines and other countries that have claims to the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, an important waterway through which trillions of dollars in trade passes each year.

The area is believed to hold oil and natural gas. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims to the sea.

The Philippines and other claimants have criticized China for turning undersea landforms in the South China Sea into artificial islands. China has built military structures and put equipment on some of them.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has criticized China’s expansion in the disputed waters. But he has also been careful not to push the issue too far because he seeks closer ties and aid from China.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his third State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metropolitan Manila, Philippines Monday July 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his third State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metropolitan Manila, Philippines Monday July 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

In a speech Tuesday, Duterte said it was “wrong” for China to claim airspace over newly-built islands in the South China Sea.

“You cannot create an island, it’s man-made, and you say that the air above these artificial islands is yours,” he said. “That is wrong because those waters are what we consider international sea.” He added that “the right of innocent passage is guaranteed. It does not need any permission to sail through the open seas.”

The Associated Press reported that the Philippines also has expressed concern to China over a rising number of Chinese radio messages. These messages have warned Philippine ships to stay away from some of the islands.

China has repeatedly said it has the right to build on and defend areas it considers its own territory.

Alan Chong is an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. He says a 60-40 joint exploration deal with the Philippines could help China in several ways.

It could signal to other Southeast Asian nations that China “is willing to be a different kind of aid-giver,” Chong said. He added that the oil deal could improve China’s image in countries where it is developing infrastructure as part of its $1 trillion, 5-year-old Belt and Road project.

In this Sept.23, 2015 photo provided by Renato Etac, Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront them off Scarborough Shoal at South China Sea, in northwestern Philippines. (Renato Etac via AP)
In this Sept.23, 2015 photo provided by Renato Etac, Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront them off Scarborough Shoal at South China Sea, in northwestern Philippines. (Renato Etac via AP)

Chong said he thinks the deal could be a way for China to help Duterte at home. “Because he’s facing a lot of criticism from his own countrymen about selling out to China,” he said.

Carl Thayer is a Southeast Asia expert with the University of New South Wales in Australia. He says he also thinks the deal makes sense for China. “By agreeing to a lesser portion, China seeks to disarm domestic opposition by Filipinos,” he said.

Thayer said such a deal might also cause other nations to take more conciliatory positions in the South China Sea dispute, as Duterte has done.

But another expert believes some people in the Philippines would want Duterte to push for an even bigger share than 60 percent. Maria Ela Atienza is a political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

“This plan for the government has received a lot of criticisms,” she told VOA. “Because others would argue if these areas are in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, that belongs to the Philippines and it should not be shared,” she added.

I'm Bryan Lynn. And I'm Alice Bryant.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English, with additional information coming from the Associated Press and Reuters. Mario Ritter was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

revenue n. amounts of money received by a government or company

artificial adj. not natural, but made by people

infrastructure n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) needed for an area to operate

portion n. a part of something

domestic adj. inside one country and not international

conciliatory adj. intended to gain goodwill or favor

exclusive adj. not shared with another person, organization or country

zone n. an area where a particular thing happens

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