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China, Philippines Team Up For Oil Exploration In South China Sea

China and the Philippines are set to join efforts to drill for oil and gas in the disputed South China Sea—a move that could be a short-term win for the Philippines but a long-term reason for China to claim resources offshore Southeast Asian countries, analysts warn.

Ahead of a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine envoy to China, Chito Sta. Romana, said that the two leaders would likely talk about setting up committees to select areas for oil and gas drilling, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

The long-running dispute in the South China Sea involves territorial claims by China as well as Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia. China has territorial claims to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, which has put it at odds with its neighbors.

A court in The Hague in 2016 ruled against China’s claims and in favor of the Philippines. China however, has not acknowledged the ruling, which has heightened tensions in the area. Instead, it has continued with its agenda, according to which most of the sea is Chinese waters.

Should the Philippines and China reach a deal on joint oil and gas exploration, “This deal may even embolden China to demand a share of energy resources in other Southeast Asian nations’ exclusive economic zones, in waters that Beijing lays no legitimate resource claim to,” Collin Koh, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told Bloomberg.

Earlier this month, the United States accused China of interfering with oil and gas drilling operations off the coast of Vietnam in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

The South China Sea may hold 28 billion barrels of oil, according to an estimate from the U.S. Geological Survey from the mid-90s. Since then, with technology improvements, this figure could have increased substantially.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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