MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, has offered a joint gas exploration deal in the South China Sea with the aim of settling the dispute between the two countries over the area.
“They want to explore. If there is something, they said, we will be gracious enough to give you 60%, only 40% will be theirs. That is the promise of Xi Jinping,” Duterte said on Tuesday night, according to a transcript sent to the media by the presidential office on Wednesday.
Duterte said Xi asked him during their meeting in Beijing in August to ignore the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling that recognized the Philippines’ rights to some territories in the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal and part of the Spratly archipelago, where China has constructed de facto military bases on artificial islands.
“Set aside your claim,” Duterte said, quoting Xi.
China, which says it has historical rights in the area, does not recognize the Hague ruling, and its sovereignty claims clash with those of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Tensions in the South China Sea have escalated in the last few years as it is a key strategic zone for the trade routes between east Asia and the Indian Ocean and is rich in natural resources, including fish, gas and oil.
The countries affected accuse China of militarizing the area to reinforce its position through the construction of artificial islands, barracks and airstrips.
Since he came to power in June 2016, Duterte has not followed the policy of confrontation practiced by his predecessor Benigno Aquino and has reoriented his foreign policy towards China in exchange for huge investments and loans for infrastructure projects.