The Philippines is pushing for private, foreign investment as opposed to joint development of the Spratly Islands. On Monday, the Philippines rejected a suggestion from China that the two South China Sea claimants consider joint development of the contested Spratly Islands. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that joint development of those blocs that “are clearly ours it not a viable solution.” Instead, del Rosario said that the Philippines would discuss inviting Chinese investors in lieu of joint development, with oil and natural exploration governed by Filipino law.
According to reports, del Rosario also proposed that the Philippines and China avail themselves of the dispute settlement mechanism under the Law of the Sea Convention. According to del Rosario, Manila is “endeavoring to look at all means to arrive at a peaceful solution of the disputes in the West Philippine Sea in accordance with international law, specifically UNCLOS.”
Meanwhile, the Philippines has invited foreign investors to explore for oil and natural gas deposits in areas that China claims as part of the contested Spratly Islands. According to one report, “[Philippine] Energy Secretary Jose Almendras said Monday the areas northwest of Palawan were in Philippine territory and were two of 15 areas nationwide being offered to foreign investors for oil and gas exploration.” The report notes that each of the two areas is estimated to have approximately 440 million barrels of oil and 2.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The recent developments between the Philippines and China are likely to have ripple effects for the emerging U.S.-Philippine strategic partnership. Over the last year, Washington and Manila have been forging stronger ties: the United States transferred two Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutters in an effort to shore up the Philippines’ maritime security forces and both countries have been enhancing military-to-military training, with one upcoming annual exercise scheduled to take place off the island of Palawan, close to a disputed area of the South China Sea. Chinese officials have warned the Philippines about U.S. involvement in the South China Sea dispute, saying that it “would make the issue more complicated and more difficult to settle among ourselves.”
However, it is unclear if the Philippines will cool off developments with the United States in response to China’s warning, or steam ahead with developing more robust ties. An article in this morning’s edition ofThe Diplomat described the tensions between the Philippine legislature and executive branch over how to best manage military relations with Washington given the precarious position the country could put itself in with respect to China. One issue that could potentially complicate further developments between the Unites States and the Philippines is the issue over leveraging the dispute settlement mechanism under UNCLOS. The United States has not ratified the Law of the Sea Convention and is unable to support the Philippines in this effort, which could undermine strategic partnership building depending on how serious Manila is about availing itself of the framework established by UNCLOS.
U.S. policymakers will need to keep a close eye on the ongoing developments between China and the Philippines. They are likely to have implications for the United States as we push for greater engagement in the Asia Pacific region.