China vows to work with Marcos government to advance joint oil, gas talks with PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 25) — The Chinese Foreign Ministry has expressed Beijing’s willingness to work with the incoming Marcos administration regarding its joint oil and gas exploration with the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.

“China stands ready to work in concert with the new Philippine government to advance negotiations on joint development and strive to take early substantive steps so as to deliver tangible benefits to both countries and peoples,” Beijing Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a briefing Thursday.

His statement comes after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. revealed that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the complete termination of talks between the two countries. 

The agreement for the joint exploration was signed by the Philippines and China in 2018 despite an ongoing territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

“Joint offshore oil and gas development is the right way for China and the Philippines to manage maritime differences and achieve win-win results without prejudicing either side’s maritime positions and claims,” the Chinese official pointed out.

He added, “[l]eaders of the two countries reached important common understanding on this. The two governments signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development and have actively pursued negotiations and made important progress within this framework.”

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a critic of the Duterte administration, has aired his support on the Philippine government's decision to end the exploration. 

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario also supported the move and emphasized on the need to look for new energy sources while still protecting the West Philippine Sea.

“In this regard, our respectful view is that it remains imperative for our country to find new energy sources, while remaining steadfast in upholding our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, as embodied in the 2016 Hague Ruling. Our resources in the West Philippine Sea are immeasurable and will support us for generations,” he said.

Considering the remaining years of the Malampaya gas field, which is a major energy source for the Philippines, Del Rosario noted new energy sources are also needed to support the livelihood of the Filipinos.

“It must be said that our country cannot afford to import most of our energy requirements from other countries,” he stressed.

Del Rosario likewise acknowledged that President-elect Bongbong Marcos will have a difficult task of appointing the right officials in the fields of energy and foreign affairs.

For maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, the termination of the talks may give the Marcos administration “a clean slate insofar as offshore petroleum exploration and development in the WPS is concerned.”

This is as long as the outgoing administration did not make any legal commitment that may hinder the Marcos government from starting fresh in the possible conduct of a joint research, he said.

The incoming officials should also take into consideration lessons learned by the Duterte government during the process, he added.

CNN Philippines' Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.