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Philippines eyes joint exploration with China in disputed sea

This photo taken on April 21, 2017 shows a sandbar as seen from Philippine-held Thitu island in the Spratly Archipelago, one of the major archipelagos in the South China Sea. (Photo by AFP)

Ahead of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s talks in Beijing, Manila says it is looking to sign an agreement with China in the coming months for joint oil and exploration in a part of the busy South China Sea waterway claimed by both countries.

A Philippine official said on Monday that the two countries had agreed in February to set up a special panel to work out how to jointly explore for offshore oil and gas in areas claimed by both sides, without needing to address the touchy issue of sovereignty.

“We’re trying to see if we can achieve an agreement, hopefully within the next couple of months,” Jose Santiago Santa Romana, Philippine ambassador to China, told a news conference held on China’s island province of Hainan.

Santa Romana said there is political willingness to strike an accord, but Beijing and Manila could take their time to make sure the goals will be achieved.

Last month, the Philippines identified two areas in the disputed South China Sea where joint exploration for oil and gas may be undertaken with China.

Beijing has, on different occasions, asserted its sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which serves as a crossing for more $ 5 trillion worth of maritime trade annually.

Besides the Philippines, the sea is also claimed in part by Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that portions of the territories disputed between the two countries belonged to the Philippines and Manila had sovereign rights to resources there and other parts belonged to China.

Beijing refused to recognize the authority of the court to make such a ruling.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (L) prior to their bilateral meeting during the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 15, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The Philippine president on Monday flew to China for the Boao Forum for Asia, and will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday.

In the past, Duterte has hailed the Chinese government for its continuous efforts to strengthen ties between Beijing and Manila.

He praised President Xi in particular for having given various assistance and support to the country, which contributed to the Philippine’s development.

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