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The Philippines

China’s foreign minister heads to Philippines as sides near deal on South China Sea exploration

  • State Councillor Wang Yi will meet President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr during two-day trip, Manila says
  • He will also discuss Southeast Asian nation’s infrastructure plan, ‘sign bilateral documents’
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2018, 8:25pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2018, 10:57pm

China’s top diplomat will arrive in the Philippines on Sunday for talks with its top officials, as analysts said the two countries could be close to a deal on joint energy exploration in the disputed South China Sea.

During his two-day trip, Foreign Minister Wang Yi will meet Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr in Davao City, according to a media advisory issued by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday.

He will also sit down with other government officials to discuss the Southeast Asian nation’s infrastructure plan, known as “Build, Build, Build”, and several bilateral documents will be signed, the advisory said, without elaborating.

Chinese analysts said the two countries were eager to reach a deal on joint energy exploration, but that problems remained with regards to their, and other nations’, competing claims in the disputed waterway.

“Joint exploration with the Philippines will set a good example in the South China Sea,” said Xu Liping, a professor at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“It will strengthen China’s interests in the area and also decrease the chances of countries from outside the region interfering.”

But any such cooperation would have to comply with the Philippines’ constitution and laws, while working out how to distribute the profits from any ventures would be a challenge to overcome, he said.

Xu said the visit by Wang, who is a member of the State Council, China’s cabinet, could also pave the way for President Xi Jinping to travel to Manila in the coming weeks. The Philippines’ former foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in August, while still in office, that the two countries were making plans for such a trip before the end of the year.

Expect big deals and some choppy waters to navigate when Xi Jinping goes to Manila

Cayetano said also that the start of the joint exploration project was “quite near” and contingent on China agreeing to a legal framework for the process. The two sides set up a panel to discuss the technical details of the venture in February.

Cayetano said earlier that the Philippines was open to a proposal in which it took 60 per cent of the profits and China 40 per cent. He also mentioned that Reed Bank, which sits within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, was a possible site for exploration.

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Su Hao, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Centre at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, said the two countries would have to formulate a plan that served not only their interests, but also those of other claimants in the region.

They would also have to be wary of a possible backlash from groups within the Philippines, including members of the political elite, that have traditionally favoured cooperation with the US, as opposed to Duterte’s current policy of building closer ties to China.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also hold territorial claims to the South China Sea, through which some US$3.4 trillion worth of trade passes every year.