China lost to PH in court. Will it win via joint exploration?

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's Philippine trip from Sunday to Monday, October 28 to 29, is the latest in back-and-forth meetings between Manila and Beijing as they push for joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea.

In such arrangement, the Philippines and China will jointly explore and later exploit the West Philippine Sea for oil and natural gas. The problem is, who will get the lion's share of the profits, and whose rules will prevail?

Experts view joint exploration as a way for China to redeem itself after losing the South China Sea case filed by the Philippines at The Hague. What China failed to win in court, will it now win through joint exploration?

Is Wang in the Philippines – for the second time in little over a year – to pave the way to China's victory? (READ: Wang Yi: China's foreign minister who once snubbed PH trips)

Wang is on a two-day Philippine trip to hold meetings with his Philippine counterpart, Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr, and President Rodrigo Duterte's economic managers. 

Before his meetings, Wang on Sunday first inaugurated the new Chinese consulate in Davao City. He later attended the birthday party of Alan Peter Cayetano, the Philippines' former foreign secretary, as he praised Duterte as "the most respected friend" of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

These meetings take place on Monday at Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City. (Watch statements from the meetings, as well as joint conference by Wang and Locsin, live on Rappler.)

China: 'Indisputable sovereignty' 

How extensively will Wang and Filipino officials tackle joint exploration in their meetings on Monday? Is the Philippines about to sign a framework for joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea?

It is worth watching how China will position itself in joint exploration because it has long asserted "indisputable sovereignty" over islands in the West Philippine Sea and their surrounding waters. 

In the words of the Aquino-era Department of Foreign Affairs, this is the "unequivocal message" of the Chinese: "Tanggapin ninyo na amin ang buong South China Sea bago tayo mag-usap." (You should first accept that the whole South China Sea is ours before we can even talk.)

Cayetano, during his term, repeatedly allayed fears about joint exploration and joint development. He said the Philippines is pursuing a possible "60-40" profit-sharing arrangement that favors Filipinos.

But he said that for the Philippines to arrive at an agreement similar to the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, "we have to put aside our territorial and sovereign rights claims but not abandon them." 

"The preliminary agreement is based on, let's cooperate first, and let's talk about who owns what, who has jurisdiction, later on," Cayetano said in a press conference on August 7.

It is interesting what Cayetano's successor, Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr, would say about the issue. (READ: Wang Yi trip is Locsin's debut in Philippines as DFA chief)

Philippines: 'Exclusive' economic zone

Philippine Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a leading expert on the West Philippine Sea, earlier said the Philippine Constitution bans joint development within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. 

Carpio said in July 2016: "The exclusive economic zone is called 'exclusive' because it is exclusive to the coastal state, to the Philippines. That's why you cannot have joint development with another country because international law and national law have said it's exclusive." 

He asked, "Why do you want to share what’s exclusively yours?"

The headline of a Wall Street Journal story on September 10 is one way to view the issue: "China poised to win major victory in sea dispute with help of Philippine resources deal."

Such a deal, the Wall Street Journal said, "would be a major policy victory for Beijing." – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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