What Duterte's Government gains from its plan on energy cooperation in the South China Sea

After Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the Philippines, the media in the region and the Philippines report of an agreement between China and the Philippines on joint oil and gas development in the contested waters claimed by both parties in the South China Sea. On November 23, 2018, three days after the MOU was signed, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin said there was no agreement between the Philippines and China on oil and gas joint exploration in the disputed areas and the MOU signed on November 20 during President Xi's visit only meant a search for prospects for oil and gas cooperation between the two countries. Almost a week after the opposition called for an investigation into the agreement, the Philippine President’s office on November 26, 2018, leaked out the text of the MOU on maritime energy cooperation between China and the Philippines signed by the two on November 20, 2018 during. Although the waters for cooperation was not specified in the text, a look into the MOU, its negotiation process of the past two years and the Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin's statement suggested that the two sides were working towards agreement on oil joint exploration cooperation in the Philippine waters which are part of China’s claim of the "nine-dashed line". So it can be said that President Duterte’s administration has left the door open for joint oil and gas exploration with China in its waters. So what has President Duterte’s government gained by this MOU?

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte at the Bilateral Meeting with Chinese Government Officials Signing of Business LOIs and Dinner Hosted by President Xi Jinping 01-1

Nguồn: Internet

The mass media suggests that President Duterte’s government has certain economic and diplomatic gains in this.

In terms of economics, China agreed to fund $ 232.5 million for the construction of the Kaliwa Dam project. China’s Gezhouba Group has committed $ 2 billion to set up an industrial park at Clark City. So far, it is one of China's largest investment in the country. China and the Philippines have also signed an agreement to build a 581km railway from Los Banos to Matnog and an agreement on infrastructure development in Davao, the home city of President Duterte. In addition, as President Duterte said, Xi Jinping also promised to strengthen trade and investment, and actively participate in the "Build, Build, Build", a grand infrastructure program worth of $180 billion initiated by President Duterte.

In terms of diplomacy, the relations between the two countries after the visit seems to become warmer, at least through flowery words about friendship by the two heads of state. As said by Mr. Xi, "Our two countries will always be good neighbors, good friends and good partners who will enjoy shared development and prosperity". China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an emailed statement, also confirmed that "China attaches great importance to working closely with the Philippines and will actively support President Duterte’s “Build” plan.

However, these modest economic outcomes certainly do not meet President Duterte’s expectations. Only 4 out of the 38 projects promised by Chinese to invest in the Philippines in 2016 are re-committed during Presient Xi’s visit. China's pledged funds for the above projects accounts for only about 10% of the amount that China has committed to the Philippines when President Duterte visited China two years ago. Also, China's financial commitments during this visit are unlikely to be realized, just like two years ago. President Duterte’s government urged China to realize its committed investment of $ 24 billion in the Philippines. However, most of the deals just remain on paper. According to Secretary of Socio-Economic Planning Ernesto Pernia, only a loan of $ 73 million for an irrigation project and a $ 75 million grant to build two bridges in Manila have been disbursed so far.

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Nguồn: Internet

On relations with China, President Duterte prides himself for helping build a friendly relationship with China, turning China from a hostile country into a big reliable friend of the Philippines. That statement is probably true only to Duterte, not to the country and people of the Philippines. Duterte views Beijing as a trusted friend and Beijing also considers him a trusted friend. However, China probably is not a good neighbor, good friend and good partner of the Philippines as Xi said. China continues to threaten Philippine’s maritime sovereignty, reaffirming its sovereignty and jurisdiction over the waters of the Philippines located in the "nine-dashed line". People can ask whether a country which always wants to violate the Philippine’s sovereignty and marine resources could be “good friend, good neighbor, good partner” of the Philippines?

In addition to the above little gains, President Duterte and the Philippines also loose bigger. For President Duterte, it was a loss of faith of the Filipino people in his determination to protect maritime sovereignty. According to a survey just before President Xi's visit to the Philippines, 84% of Filipinos were not happy that the Manila government has taken no action in the South China Sea, resisting to criticize China’s attempts to increase military presence in the South China Sea as well as to request China to adhere to the PCA ruling. Filipinos believed Duterte had offered China too much in terms of politics in exchange for loans and investment of billions of dollars are now just promises. The people’s confidence in President Duterte will be further lowered after he signed with China an MOU of energy cooperation in the South China Sea.

It is also a great loss for the President himself: declining voters’ trust. If it officially signed an oil exploration agreement with China in the Philippine’s waters which are within the China’s "nine-dashed line", Duterte and his administration could hardly win the support of Philippine voters in the mid-term parliamentary elections be held in 2019 and in the president election to be held in 2020. These are the concerns that Duterte must consider in the next 12 months.

The opposition in the Philippines also strongly criticized President Duterte's administration for agreeing oil and gas cooperation with China in the South China Sea. The Finacial Times quoted Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s statement that any agreement with China on oil and gas cooperation in the Philippines’ waters would undermine the sovereignty rights of the Philippines and violate its constitution.

Before the MOU was signed, Fernando Hicap, National Chairman of the fishermen’s union told the New York Times that the Philippines may sign an agreement to realize plan for cooperation during Mr Xi’s visit, which was “like a complete surrender to China’s claim of the sovereignty and control over the resource-rich waters” of the Philippines.

For the country and people of the Philippines, the biggest loss is that, by signing the MOU, President Duterte’s administration has in principle indirectly acknowledged Philippine’s waters in the "nide-dashed line" were disputed waters, thus putting China equal to the Philippines in the Philippine’s waters, though according to international law and the PCA ruling, the Philippines has indisputable sovereignty and ownership rights to the resources in its waters. The second loss is the signing of the MOU has somehow nullified the PCA ruling, an important legal basis for the Philippines to deal with Chinain settling disputes in the South China Sea.

The self-disabling of the PCA ruling and detachment from international law will undermine the maritime sovereignty of the Philippines. In the long run, the pressure over the Philippines on sovereignty will not decrease but rather increase because the MOU will reinforce China's sovereignty claim in the South China Sea in general and the Philippine’s waters in particular. What President Duterte’s administration is doing obviously runs against the desire of most of Filipinos and the interests of the Philippines.

In brief, by signing the MOU on oil and gas cooperation in the South China Sea, the gains for the Philippines are limited while the losses are much greater. For the country and the people of the Philippines, an agreement on joint exploration or exploitation of oil and gas with China within the Philippine’s waters and China’s claim of "nine-dashed line" will have very serious impacts on the Philippine’s sovereignty. First of all, the Philippine’s waters will officially be transformed into disputed waters and in the long run will no longer belong to Filipinos. Therefore, the people of the Philippines will definitely not allow President Duterte’s administration to sign such a disastrous deal.

Chinese maritime militia forces threatening other claimants in the South China Sea

At a Security Conference in Makati, Manila, the Philippines on December 7, 2018, Gregory Poling, Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) observed that the underlined mission of Chinese maritime militia forces is to threaten their neighboring countries with sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. Though these forces are just showing up as fishing fleets, we should keep them in close watch.

How China manipulates information

China has a long history of ideological struggles and use of propaganda tools. In current context, these skills are used globally to promote Chinese interests, particularly in the South China Sea.

In August, 2018, the Center for Analysis, Planning and Strategy of the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs (CAPS) and the Institute for Strategic Research of the French Ministry of the Armed Forces (IRSEM) publicized their report on “Information Manipulation: A great challenge in today’s world”. The report says, in order to promote its image, China uses intervention tools and exerts influence with special effects. Propaganda and ideological dissemination are fundamental responsibilities and rights of the Chinese Communist Party. China owns a wide network of information control to promote its interests at international fora. Its propaganda aims at: i) supporting domestic politics through information censorship and manipulation; ii) influencing international opinion and waging the “information warfare” in favor of Chinese ambitions.

How America Is Losing the Battle for the South China Sea

What a difference a year makes. In late summer 2016, there was some hope the July 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling in favor of the Philippine interpretation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea regarding the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal would curtail Beijing’s subsequent activity in the South China Sea (despite China’s refusal to even participate in the arbitration case or recognize the court’s jurisdiction, let alone accept the ruling).

In fact, some optimists, like Lynn Kuok from the National University of Singapore, have pointed to small developments—such as China this year permitting Filipino and Vietnamese fishing around Scarborough Shoal for the first time since 2012—as encouraging signs that the Hague’s ruling is having a positive effect. [READ MORE]

Maritime delimitation between Indonesia and the Philippines and the South China Sea dispute

On the occasion of the House of Representatives of Indonesia on April 27, 2017 ratifying the Maritime Agreement between Indonesia-Philippines - a historical agreement signed in 2014, would like to introduce the article “Indonesia-Philippines Agreement: Lessons for South China Sea Claimants” written by Ambassador Arif Havas Oegroseno, Deputy Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Resources of Indonesia.

Maritime delimitation between Indonesia and the Philippines and the South China Sea dispute


On the occasion of the House of Representatives of Indonesia on April 27, 2017 ratifying the Maritime Agreement between Indonesia-Philippines - a historical agreement signed in 2014, would like to introduce the article “Indonesia-Philippines Agreement: Lessons for South China Sea Claimants” written by Ambassador Arif Havas Oegroseno, Deputy Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Resources of Indonesia.

China’s aggressive activities in the Johnson South Reef violate Vietnam’s sovereignty

SCSC - Spratly archipelago of Vietnam has an important strategic location in the world’s busiest maritime route in the South China Sea, which is considered the “pharynx” connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean.

International strategists say anyone who controls the Spratly can dominate the South China Sea. That’s why, Beijing authorities have attempted and sought ways to occupy the islands.

China’s militarization of the South China Sea is a regional threat

SCSC - On December 21, 2016, US scholar Mark Valencia, currently adjunct senior scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, Hainan, China wrote an article titled “China is not the only one 'militarising' the South China Sea” on the South China Morning Post, providing a biased and untruthful reflection of reality in the South China Sea.

Mark Valencia used criticism from US experts and press of China’s militarization in the South China Sea (after the Center for Strategy and International Studies (CSIS) of the US released an image of Beijing locating air defense and anti-missile systems in artificial islands that China constructed in the Spratly) to write pretext for his article.

What Rodrigo Duterte Is Giving Up

There’s one international power that doesn’t seem particularly bothered by Duterte’s excesses. “The Chinese side fully understands and firmly supports the Duterte administration’s policy that [prioritizes] the fight against drug crimes,” said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua in a speech last month.

He went on to express his satisfaction at the “friendly interactions’ between the two countries since the new president began his term, predicting that the sun “will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations.” [READ MORE]

Beijing’s Opening Bargain with Manila

Nothing has been finalized at this point, but the story offers a glimpse into Chinese thinking. A minor concession on fishing access for Filipino fishermen may be just enough for Duterte to save face at home.

The volatile Philippine president has shown little interest in rallying diplomatic pressure against Beijing’s South China Sea claims, but in the face of domestic pressure, he has promised to raise the issue during his trip. [READ MORE]

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