Philippines’ Duterte signals closer ties with China amid anger at outsize Beijing influence


(CNN)Leaders of China and the Philippines have preliminarily agreed to cooperate on oil and gas exploration, a move that has angered many Filipinos wary of Chinese territorial expansionism in the region.

Experts said the agreement is likely to be more symbolic than a concrete commitment to exploration in the disputed waters.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, announced 29 agreements between the two countries on Tuesday in Manila, at the beginning of a two-day state visit by the Chinese leader.

The deals include a memorandum of understanding to jointly explore for energy resources, alongside agreements on basic education, agricultural cooperatives and infrastructure projects, Philippines government spokesman JV Arcena told CNN.

According to a Chinese draft of the deal, the Chinese side would authorize its state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation to undertake joint exploration in “relevant sea areas” of the South China Sea with an as-yet unnamed Filipino entity, CNN Philippines reported. Filipino opposition senator Antonio Trillanes released the draft Tuesday to reporters.

Beijing claims an enormous swathe of territory in the highly contested sea, overlapping competing claims from the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, among others.
The Philippines in the past has taken a strong line on China’s behavior in the area, even taking China to an international tribunal. But under Duterte, the government has increasingly looked to build an economically beneficial relationship with Beijing.

Duterte told reporters in November that China was “already in possession” of the sea. “It’s now in their hands. So why do we have to create frictions (and undertake) strong military activity that will prompt response from China?” he said.