Joint oil exploration deal with China . . .
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced Tuesday that he will approve conducting joint offshore oil exploration with China in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the waters west of the Philippines. The decision ignores the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague’s 2016 ruling that invalidated China’s claim to the South China Sea. Duterte said that Xi Jinping has offered 60 per cent of the economic benefits if the Philippines sets aside its claim. Since his election in 2016, Duterte has moved closer to Beijing, for which he has received much criticism.
An unconstitutional deal . . .
Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo, who leads the opposition and is known for criticizing the president, said the deal undermines the Philippines’ rights in the South China Sea and claims President Duterte should have pushed further for China to comply with the court’s ruling. Many experts support Robredo in saying the Filipino constitution rules out joint exploration within the EEZ. Additional legislation and legal interpretation of the constitution will be required to conclude the deal.
Ever murkier waters . . .
The deal is a setback for other claimants to the South China Sea, including Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam, as the Philippines’ deal with China critically weakens the court’s 2016 ruling. With Philippine-U.S. relations already strained, U.S. allies in the region and elsewhere will need to closely monitor how this deal rolls out, and what it means for safe marine transportation in the South China Sea. Canada’s most recent naval action in the region was to send a frigate through the South China Sea and the Strait of Taiwan in what was seen by many Western analysts as a demonstration of support for the U.S.-backed position that the South China Sea remain an international waterway.