By Joyce Pangco Panares
Manila Standard Today
China’s 3rd wave offensive on as it bids out 9 blocks
Beijing on Thursday pressed its claim to the South China Sea with a new offensive that could spark another row between China and its neighbors, and following reports it had started to bid out service contracts for the joint exploration of the islands with foreign oil companies.
Disputed territory. This map shows the area in the West Philippine Sea (inside the red line) that China has offered to foreign companies for joint oil exploration.
Beijing’s state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp was said to have invited foreign firms in late June to bid on nine oil and gas blocks that overlap a territory also being explored by Vietnam. The giant oil exploration firm had put up 160,000 square kilometers of water on offer.
An industry source said Beijing had told oil companies they had until next June to decide if they would bid for the nine blocks.
China’s oil exploration efforts are described by analysts as the third front in Beijing’s three-wave offensive, the first being the diplomatic offensive and the second the flexing of its military muscles.
On Thursday, though, Manila said it would be difficult to enter into a joint oil exploration agreement with the other claimant-countries until a binding Code of Conduct to govern the territorial disputes in the region was in place.
“While we may be open to some way of jointly exploring those areas, the first thing that has to be done is to have a binding code of conduct,” Presidential Communications Development Secretary Ramon Carandang said.
He made the statement even as Taipei said it intended to join the discussions of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on the drafting of the Code of Conduct.
Taiwan also claims ownership of some of the islands, including the highly-disputed Scarborough Shoal that in April sparked a standoff between Beijing and Manila.
“If Taiwan is not able to take part in the discussions, any results achieved will be incomplete and regrettable,” Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs James Chou said in a report aired over the Focus Taiwan News Channel.
Still, any discussions on the issue between Taipei and the Asean could be censured by Beijing because of its One-China Policy, which forbids Taiwan from discussing foreign affairs with other countries on issues involving the mainland.
But Chou said Taipei would make sure its “voice was heard by the international community through different channels”.
“Taiwan stands firm on its sovereignty on the islands in the region and adheres to the principles of safeguarding its sovereignty, shelving disputes, rationality and peace, and joint exploration.”
Unlike Beijing, Taipei is in favor of resolving the territorial disputes in the South China Sea through multilateral talks with other claimants.
Carandang asked Beijing not to increase the tension by bidding out the territories outside its jurisdiction in compliance with the Declaration of the Code of Conduct, which Beijing and the Asean signed in 2002.
“We remind our friends, not just China, that in the spirit of the Code of Conduct, it might be better not to take actions that might raise tensions,” Carandang said.
He said the service contracts being offered by the Philippines were in the areas that were not under dispute and well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“We will exercise our right as a sovereign country to bid out licenses,” Carandang said.
“And if those people who have licenses need protection, we will provide it to the best of our ability.” With Sara Susanne D. Fabunan and Bloomberg