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Philippines reignites row with China over oil exploration rights

Energy secretary José Almendras has invited foreign companies to explore offshore area, despite Chinese claims to the territory

The Philippines has asserted a right to invite foreign companies to explore for oil and gas in waters located between its western coast and the South China Sea, dismissing China’s claim to the area.

The verbal tussle erupted after the Philippines’ energy secretary, José Almendras, said in Manila this week that the Philippine government has invited major foreign oil companies to invest in fuel exploration in two offshore areas north-west of Palawan province that fall within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said in Beijing that the offshore areas belonged to China. “It is illegal for any country, government or company, without the Chinese government’s permission, to develop oil and natural gas in waters under Chinese jurisdiction,” Hong said, when asked to comment on the Philippine plan.

Rejecting China’s position, the Philippines’ foreign secretary, Albert del Rosario, said the offshore areas being opened to foreign investors “are well within our sovereignty” based on the UN convention on the law of the sea.

Philippine officials separately accused China in 2011 of repeatedly intruding into its territorial waters, and at least once trying to disrupt a Philippine oil exploration in another offshore area called the Reed Bank, also off Palawan.

Palawan province, about 510 miles (820km) south-west of Manila, faces the South China Sea. The sea, which surrounds potentially oil and gas-rich islands and reefs, is claimed entirely by China but the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have made competing claims.

The Philippines has invited companies to explore for oil and gas in 15 areas nationwide, including in the offshore areas lying 49 miles (79km) and 76 miles (123km) from Palawan.

Almendras said the Philippine government would start awarding exploration contracts to investors next month. He did not say whether the first batch of permits would cover the two areas also being claimed by China. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds