Richard Heydarian says China’s and the Philippines’ weighing of resource sharing marks an upward turn for two nations once awash in acrimony
For the Filipino president, who is intent on improving strategic relations with Beijing, this is the best available modus vivendi to manage and eventually resolve territorial disputes among claimant states.
While in theory a JDA could break the impasse in the South China Sea, there will be significant political and legal hurdles along the way. Yet, peaceful dialogue over resource sharing in disputed areas could in itself contribute to improving diplomatic relations among competing neighbours.
A Philippine boat fishes during sunset at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters
For weeks, Duterte has repeatedly advocated the exploration and development of hydrocarbon and fisheries resources in the South China Sea. During his state-of-the-nation address in late July, Duterte praised Beijing as a friendly and generous neighbour which could serve as a partner for national development. Throughout his tenure in office, he has repeatedly downplayed territorial tensions by emphasising the value of restoring robust investment and trade relations with China.
The Filipino president has extended the same “pragmatic” logic to the South China Sea, where he believes the two sides can jointly develop contested resources. With the impending exhaustion of the Malampaya plant, the main source of the Philippines’ indigenous natural gas, Manila is scrambling for alternative sources of energy.