Are China and the Philippines Agreeing to Share the South China Sea?

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In theory, any resource-sharing agreement should be consistent with both countries’ national as well as the 2016 international tribunal ruling at The Hague, which nullified much of China’s nine-dash line map claims to areas Manila views as its own.

The Philippine constitution bars any JDA with a foreign entity that refuses to acknowledge the country’s sovereignty within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Any JDA within China’s nine-dash line map will also potentially violate international law by legitimizing the Asian powerhouse’s excessive and expansive claims in adjacent waters.

According to the 2016 arbitral award ruling, the Philippines and China have no overlapping EEZs, thus it’s not clear what would be the legal basis for a fair and legitimate resource-sharing scheme in accordance to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio has described any resource-sharing agreement with China within Philippine waters as unconstitutional and potential grounds for Duterte’s impeachment. Leading defense officials also continue to ring alarm bells over China’s expanding military footprint in adjacent waters.

The two sides likely envision resource-sharing ventures similar to the Camago-Malampaya gas project, located off the coast of the Philippine island of Palawan in the South China Sea, where multinational energy giants Chevron and Shell are the lead investors.

One proposal is for the Philippine National Oil Company to subcontract CNOOC to develop energy resources in the nearby Calamian Islands, which lies outside the Philippines’ EEZ as well as China’s nine-dash line map.

The arrangement would seemingly clear most potential legal hurdles and seems politically viable. A similar arrangement, though more controversial, is being considered in neighboring Reed Bank, a potential site of huge untapped hydrocarbon resources.

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