A day after the Philippines declared an end to negotiations with Beijing on joint energy exploration, China on Friday insisted that collaboration in oil and gas development remains the “right way” ahead.
“Joint oil and gas development between China and Philippines is the right way for the two to properly handle maritime differences for mutual benefit without compromising respective maritime positions,” said Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry.
He was responding to comments by Philippines Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who said on Thursday that Manila has terminated talks with Beijing on joint oil and gas exploration in the disputed South China Sea.
Locsin said the decision was on President Rodrigo Duterte’s orders, emphasizing that “everything is over” with respect to energy exploration talks.
However, with Duterte set to hand over power to President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. this month, Wang said Beijing “is ready to work with the new Philippines government to push forward the negotiations and strive for substantive progress,” according to Chinese daily Global Times.
In 2018, Manila and Beijing signed an agreement to explore oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea, a hotspot of conflicting territorial claims by several countries apart from China and the Philippines.
The deal came two years after the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated China’s expansive claims over the sea.
Locsin said he and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi put in “sincere hard work” to iron out a workable solution, according to a statement by the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs.
“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.
“We got as far as it is constitutionally possible to go. One step forward from where we stood on the edge of the abyss is a drop into treason. That explains the sudden pullback on my part.”
Both sides went “as far as we could – without renouncing China’s aspiration on his part; and constitutional limitations on my part,” he added.
However, on Duterte’s directives, “I shut down shop completely,” Locsin said.
“I carried out his instructions to the letter: oil and gas discussions are terminated completely. Nothing is pending; everything is over,” he stressed.