Philippines, China eye joint exploration in disputed waters

China and the Philippines are discussing joint mineral exploration in the South China Sea despite an ongoing territorial conflict over the strategic waterway, Manila’s foreign secretary said Friday. The two countries, long embroiled in a dispute over their competing claims to the area, are hoping talks will open the door for them to jointly tap its resources, Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said. “We are pushing it aggressively because we need it,” Cayetano told reporters, adding the countries would each form a working group to explore options for joint exploration. “Then we will find a framework under our constitution that will allow us… joint exploration,” he said. “We both want it.” The South China Sea is a major trading route and fishing ground believed to have vast mineral resources, and is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, where the waters is known as the East Sea. Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the area but in 2016 a U.N.-backed tribunal acting on a case brought by then-Philippine leader Benigno Aquino rejected its claims. Current president Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in mid-2016, has since alarmed defence analysts and lawyers by down-playing the Philippine claim and largely setting aside the ruling so as to accomodate China — which is promising military and economic aid. But on Friday Cayetano said the Philippines would consult with “international legal experts” to make sure any accord would not hurt Philippine sovereign rights. “Whatever we do, it will not only (be) in accordance with… [Read full story]

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