Philippines & China: Joint Exploration, Not War

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 11/20/2012 07:09:00 AM
The Philippines' industrialist du jour, Manny V. Pangilinan--he goes by his initials "MVP"--has long sought to partner with Chinese energy firms in exploring contested areas in the South China Sea. Say what you will about Pangilinan, but his move shows astuteness about the political sensitivities surrounding energy exploration there. If you will recall, the Philippine president was sufficiently annoyed by recent run-ins with the Chinese in the South China Sea as to officially rename the part of it claimed by Manila the "West Philippine Sea."

While China always issues fine words such as those spoken at the recently-concluded ASEAN summit about the matter, alike that other would-be regional domineer its actions do speak louder--and are often belligerent in the eyes of many Filipinos. Witness their abysmal public opinion of China. So, while Pangilinan does have his critics, his idea for the energy exploration unit of his vast group to partner with Chinese oil giant CNOOC makes business and political sense. As with any number of foreigners, Pangilinan is banking on leadership changes in the Communist Party to spur a joint exploration deal. I am somewhat doubtful, but one always hopes that the liberal idea of commercial opportunities trumping narrow national objectives holds even here:
Philex Petroleum Corp. is looking to start a fresh round of talks with China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) for the development of the potentially resource-rich Recto Bank in Northwest Palawan. The listed upstream oil firm will wait for the response of its Chinese counterpart considering the recent leadership shakeup in the world’s second largest economy.

“Hopefully we can get some response from them with the change of leadership,” Philex Petroleum chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan said. In April, officials of Philex Petroleum conducted a meeting with government-owned CNOOC in Beijing.
That said, the mooted deal is best characterized as prospective in nature:
Pangilinan said there is no timeframe yet on the new round of talks considering the political transition in China. “I think you have to allow a bit of time because these are new leaders of China so it may take a bit of time to put their feet under the table so to speak,” Pangilinan said.
At best, it's killing two birds with one stone: the Philippines gains energy exploration expertise it does not necessarily have, while it also mitigates security risks emanating from this territorial conflict. Then again, joint exploration brings with it the connotation that the Philippines has a right to these areas China has long denied, so it's certainly a mixed prospect for all involved.