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No signing seen on PHL-China oil exploration during Xi’s visit

File Photo: Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the closing session of the annual National People’s Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 20, 2018. (AP Photo / Ng Han Guan)

NO deals on joint exploration are expected to be signed during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping this month, two Cabinet members said on Wednesday, but did not rule out the possibility that discussions on the matter might at least be included later in the agenda.

Malacanang had said in October the government is doing everything it can to make sure that when President Xi comes here, there will be a joint exploration deal that can be signed. 

Cabinet members – the secretaries of energy and of foreign affairs — indicated otherwise, however. 

“I have seen no such deals. Oil is energy’s remit,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said in a text message to reporters when asked for clarification on whether there are indeed efforts on the part of the Philippine government to strike an oil exploration deal in the disputed territories. 

Locsin added that the focus of President Xi’s visit will be the country’s joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a commitment which the Cabinet has already authorized In Tuesday’s Cabinet Meeting. 

“….I committed PH in Davao…because we are the last of Asean to join. It is Xi’s top priority,” he said. 

The DFA chief, however, also could not say yet whether there will be at least discussions on joint explorations between the two governments. 

Moreover, Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi also said he wasn’t aware of any exploration deal being worked out between the Philippines and China in time for the visit. 

“No exploration deal that I know,” he said in a text message to reporters. However, he said that there may be discussions about it during the visit. 

“But I would defer to the better judgment of the President if exploration deals will be taken up,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Malacanang also refused to answer questions on the status of oil exploration deals, deferring to the Department of Foreign Affairs. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last October 29 in a press conference that China is ready to further discuss with the Philippines about joint development of oil and gas in the South China Sea “to shelve differences and pursue joint development.”

This comes as Malampaya is expected to dry out by 2027 and pose a “serious energy crisis” as the gas field supplies about 40 percent of Luzon’s power needs. 

The Duterte administration has been criticized for taking a “softer approach” when it comes to dealing with China on the SCS maritime dispute in exchange for investments and funding for infrastructure projects.

The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued in 2016 a landmark decision that invalidated China’s massive claims to the West Philippine Sea. Up to this day, however, China refuses to recognize the arbitral ruling.

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