AN expert at a leading American think tank said the Philippines’s assertion of sovereignty will be impaired if it actively participates in a joint exploration for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“What we’re seeing is [that a] joint exploration for energy resources probably’s not gonna work out. It will be on Beijing’s terms if anything,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst, Rand Corp.
The Philippines and China are currently working out a sharing scheme for hydrocarbon deposits at the Recto Bank (Reed Bank), anchored on a carefully crafted memorandum of understanding between their respective foreign ministries earlier this year.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said that initially, the Chinese agreed to a 60-40 sharing agreement in favor of the Philippines.
In Grossman’s view, the cost of having acquiesced to the Chinese in the contested waters is that “you are no longer stating unambiguously that this territory is that of the Philippines and that’s what is struggling to me about it.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., on the other hand, had stressed the Philippines will never abandon the UN arbitral tribunal’s July 2016 ruling, invalidating China’s “excessive” claims to the resource rich waters.
“It’s money in our pocket,” he had said on Twitter.
Grossman reminded a delegation of Filipino journalists in Washington, D.C., that the “Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in 2016 was pretty clear at least in that particular case, that the Philippines had the correct argument in the South China Sea and China ignored it.”
He noted that there have been no objections to China’s continuing disregard of the ruling from Manila or from everyone else.
“When doing joint exploration, that’s almost like a reward for something you have not received reciprocation for,” he added.
Meanwhile, when asked whether the Philippines planned to purchase Russian military equipment, Grossman said, “That’s fine if it’s purely transactional, but I hope Russia is not expected to support [the Philippines] on sovereignty.”
“That’s not gonna happen. The China-Russia relationship is the closest that it probably has ever been, even including the 1950s and before the Sino-Soviet split,” he said, adding that Russia does not have any geostrategic interest in the South China Sea.
John Gordon IV, senior policy researcher for Rand Corp., said we should “take a consistent front against the Chinese, adding, “And I think having a common message from the United States and the Philippines is probably a very important thing to do.”
He said many people in the US military are very interested in the amount of access the American military is going to get in the Philippines. “You know, that’s been an on-again, off-again issue of how much access the US will get to bases in the Philippines, permanent or temporary bases.”
Investing in capabilities
Bonny Lin, political scientist, Rand Corp., for his part stressed the need to look “at particular types of military capabilities that will enable you to better be able to understand and… patrol your claims in the region. Maritime domain awareness capabilities are particularly high on that list.”
She said she favors investing in capabilities and maintaining the strong relationships between the Philippines and the US, which she said is “on solid track right now.”