The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has invited Filipino-Chinese businessmen to invest in the country’s offshore energy exploration projects, including in the resource-rich Reed Bank off western Palawan, which China claims as part of its territory.
Manila had long dismissed China’s assertion over the Reed Bank–known as Recto Bank in the Philippines–saying the area is not part of the disputed South China Sea. Reed bank, it added, is also part of the Philippine continental shelf.
In a meeting on May 8, Assistant Secretary Gilberto Asuque, head of the DFA Ocean Concerns Office, encouraged the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry "to consider investing in Philippine companies undertaking exploration activities in the country’s continental shelf."
Asuque assured them the rights of Filipino investor to stage projects in the country’s territorial waters are protected by the government “… and our marine resources, as provided under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and our national laws.”
In a statement Friday, the DFA expressed its latest attempt to dismiss China’s claim over most of West Philippine Seas that encompasses Recto Bank and Panatag Shoal.
Recto Bank and Panatag shoal–the latest flash point of geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Manila–are well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the 200-nautical mile provision recognized by UNCLOS.
A volatile standoff
Based on UNCLOS rules, nations have the right to explore, exploit and develop areas within their 200-nautical mile EEZ. Both China and the Philippines were signatories to UNCLOS.
China is demanding that the Philippines cease exploration projects in the Reed Bank, saying it “never allows any country or company to develop oil and natural gas in waters under Chinese jurisdiction.”
Beijing is also asserting ownership over two areas called Area 3 and Area 4, located 80 kilometers northwest of Palawan, insisting these are part of its territories in the South China Sea.
Scientific data show the West Philippine Sea contains vast deposits of oil and natural gas.
The area around Recto Bank alone has an estimated 16.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to last for a century, according to the Department of Energy.
Apart from China the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam are claiming parts of West Philippine Sea.
Since early April, Manila and Beijing have been engaged in a volatile standoff over Panatag Shoal, 124 nautical miles of the northwest Philippine province of Zambales.
A ring-shaped coral reef with rocky outcrops encircling a lagoon, Panatag is 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest coastal province of Hainan. The Chinese name for it is Huangyan Island and international maritime maps identify the area as Scarborough Shoal. —VS, GMA News