Duterte, Xi discuss joint exploration in disputed sea

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte shakes hands with People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping during October 2016 bilateral meetings at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing. PHOTO: PPD/King Rodriguez

President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday briefly discussed a possible joint exploration between their countries in the South China Sea, the Philippines’ top diplomat said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said Duterte and Xi discussed the possibility of a joint exploration in the disputed waters during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of an international forum in Hainan province on Tuesday.

He said the two leaders’ position that they are amenable to a joint exploration in the disputed sea is deemed a “go-signal” for the Philippines to come up with a framework for the deal.

“If it is acceptable to both sides, then we could see the joint exploration done soon,” Cayetano said in a press briefing in Hong Kong.

Cayetano added the Philippines wants the deal to be finalized as soon as possible as the country’s gas supply from the Malampaya gas field in northwest Palawan is expected to run out in about a decade.

“If our legal minds… can come up with a framework tomorrow, I will send that to the Chinese tomorrow,” Cayetano said.

Duterte has opted to downplay the Philippines’ maritime dispute with China in pursuit of improved economic ties with Asia’s largest economy.

The President, nonetheless, said that despite his government’s rapprochement with China, he will never surrender the country’s claims to the sea and will bring up at the appropriate time Manila’s arbitration victory against Beijing.

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