Philippine judge rules out any China gas deal without sovereignty recognition


MANILA: Any deal between the Philippines and a Chinese firm to jointly explore for gas in the Reed Bank of the South China Sea will be illegal unless China recognises the southeast Asian nation’s sovereign rights there, a Philippine judge said on Monday.

Manila has identified two areas in the crowded waterway suitable for joint exploration and the two countries seek a way to tackle the diplomatic and legal headache of jointly exploring in the waters, but without addressing the issue of sovereignty.

The Reed Bank is claimed by both sides, but international law says it falls within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines. China says it falls within the so-called nine-dash line on maps recording its historic rights in the area.

Antonio Carpio, the acting top judge of the Supreme Court, said it was legal for the Philippines’ energy ministry to talk to state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) as a possible sub-contractor.

“There’s no problem as long as CNOOC will recognise that that is our exclusive economic zone,” he told news channel ANC in an interview. “But that is the problem, because CNOOC will not recognise (Philippine jurisdiction).”

Carpio was speaking as an expert on international law and staunch advocate for the Philippines to assert its maritime sovereignty claims.