Duterte says Philippines can’t afford oil rigs, open to sharing resources with China in disputed sea

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 10:09pm

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he was open to sharing resources with Beijing in flashpoint South China Sea waters over which Manila has been given exclusive rights by an international tribunal.

Beijing claims most of the sea, including waters close to the Philippine coast, despite the claim being declared as without basis last year by a United Nations-backed tribunal.

However, Duterte said the Philippines could not exploit the natural resources on its own.

“Even if I wanted to extract everything we do not have the capital. Even the (oil) rig and everything we can’t afford it,” Duterte told lawyers in Manila Thursday.

“I would consider sharing it.”

Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino had challenged China’s claim to control most of the South China Sea, despite counter-claims by several other nations.

Watch: what has happened so far in the South China Sea

The Aquino government in 2013 filed suit at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. The tribunal ruled in favour of Manila last year.

However Duterte, who had taken office days before the tribunal ruling, has since reversed Aquino’s policy and is seeking billions of dollars of investment and grants from Beijing.

Duterte on Thursday repeated earlier pronouncements he would not go to war with China over the disputed claims.

Duterte said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had agreed in Beijing last year that they would look to boost faltering trade ties that had been impacted by the sea row.

He said he also told Xi Manila would put off a discussion with Beijing on the Hague-based tribunal’s ruling.

However, Duterte said the two countries would have to address the issue the moment China began to extract minerals in waters over which Manila has exclusive rights to exploit under the tribunal’s ruling.

Philippine defence chief Delfin Lorenzana said this month that Duterte had drawn “a red line” on any reclamation by China of Scarborough Shoal, a disputed reef with potentially large oil and gas reserves, 230km from the main Philippine island of Luzon.

“Once the Chinese start exploring, putting rigs there, we’ll talk to them,” Lorenzana quoted Duterte as saying to him.

Lorenzana said Chinese survey ships were seen last year near Benham Rise – a Philippine territory 250km off the east coast of Luzon – as well as Reed Bank in the South China Sea.

He said he had ordered the Philippine navy to “accost them and drive them away”.

China has already dismissed those concerns, saying its ships were simply passing through the waters there.

In a statement carried on its website, China’s Foreign Ministry said the whole issue had been “hyped up”.

“China fully respects the Philippines’ maritime area rights over the Benham Rise. On this point, there has not been, is not at the moment and will not be a dispute between China and the Philippines,” the ministry said.

Additional reporting by Reuters