Philippine-China oil exploration terminated  

Fisherfolks in Scarborough Shoal area in Masinloc, Zambales. — REUTERS

OIL and gas explorations between the Philippines and China have been completely terminated, according to Manila’s top envoy.  

“The president had spoken,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said in a speech in Manila, referring to President Rodrigo R. Duterte. “I carried out his instructions to the letter: Oil and gas discussions are terminated completely.”  

“Nothing is pending; everything is over,” he added. “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.”  

Outgoing President Rodrigo R. Duterte had ignored the country’s arbitral victory against China in exchange for infrastructure pledges from its neighbor. He also agreed to pursue a joint exploration with China in the South China Sea.  

In March, the tough-talking leader asked the next government to honor the Philippines’ commitment to the proposed joint oil exploration with China and avoid any conflict.  

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.  

 Mr. Locsin noted that despite attempts to reconcile issues in the disputed sea, not much has changed. 

“I tried for three years to come to an agreement to facilitate exploration for and exploitation of oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea,” he said, referring to areas of the waterway within the country’s exclusive economic zone. “We got as far as it is constitutionally possible to go.” 

“We had both tried to go as far as we could — without renouncing China’s aspiration on his part; and constitutional limitations on my part,” he added, citing discussions with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. “I shut down shop completely.”  

Nearing the end of his term, Mr. Locsin said the Philippines has not “surrendered a single inch of territory or a drop of our waters.”  

“Not by word or deed have we weakened our right to everything in the West Philippine Sea,” he said. “Without inviting pity by asking, we achieved an international consensus that right is with us and might cannot ever take it away.”  

Mr. Locsin said differences between the two nations should not lead to endless conflict.  

President-elect Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has said Mr. Duterte’s nonconfrontational stance on the sea dispute with China  was “the right way.” He also said he would pursue an independent foreign policy.  

China has promised continued bilateral relations with the Philippines as the country transitions to a new government.   

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian earlier said China would stay committed to the friendship of both nations and focus on post-pandemic growth. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan