China pushes oil probe talks

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Beijing official hopes for ‘strong will’ to advance other joint projects

China has expressed willingness to resume talks with the Philippines on “cooperation” in the Western Philippine Sea, especially oil and gas exploration talks that were previously canceled by the Duterte administration.

Visiting Minister Liu Jianchao of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee (IDCPC) said this during his meeting with Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Speaker of the House and Chairman of Lakas-CMD Martin Romualdez, and the Senate Minority Leader and PDP- Koko Pimentel, President of Laban.

Liu, a former Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, hopes Manila will move forward with plans with Beijing once consensus is reached, saying “strong will” is needed to pursue what has been discussed.

He also expressed hope that the Philippines will continue China-funded railway projects so that Filipinos “have access to the convenience of rail transportation as soon as possible.”

“I hope both sides will have serious, pragmatic and reasonable discussions and consultations on these projects, so once agreed upon, once consensus is reached, the projects will proceed,” he said.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. previously ordered the Department of Transportation to renegotiate loan agreements for three railway projects, namely the Philippine National Railways Bicol project, the Subic-Clark railway project and the first phase of the Mindanao railway project.

The DOTr said the Chinese bank that will finance the projects was charging 3% interest on the loans, well above the 0.01% rate charged by Japan.

Regarding oil and gas exploration talks, Liu said maritime disputes should not overshadow bilateral relations between the two Asian neighbors.

“It seems that there are legal obstacles or impeding factors, but I hope both sides will deal with these issues in a feasible way, in a practical way, so that cooperation can be achieved,” Liu said.

“I hope the discussions will continue. I hope both sides will show some flexibility… without prejudging each other’s claims, their own positions,” he added.

The Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit to the Philippines in November 2018 served as the basis for the two parties to “negotiate on an expedited basis an agreement to facilitate the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas”.

However, in June, President Rodrigo Duterte decided to abandon joint oil exploration talks amid tensions in the Western Philippine Sea.

“President [Rodrigo Duterte] talked. I followed his instructions to the letter. The oil and gas talks are completely over… Three years later, we have not achieved our goal: to develop the oil and gas resources so critical to the Philippines, but not at the cost of sovereignty. Not even a particle,” said then-foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

Locsin said he “went as far as it was constitutionally possible to go” in reaching a deal with his Chinese counterpart, as he likened the task of holding foreign intruders accountable to drawing “a blood red line in the WPS”.

Meanwhile, Liu said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plans to strengthen its relationship with political parties in the Philippines.

“We are open and we are very positive to promote and strengthen the interactions between the Chinese Communist Party and [political parties in the Philippines] and even with new parties, we would like to establish links,” he said.
Liu met Romualdez and other members of Lakas on Saturday while chatting with Pimentel on Sunday.

The CCP established a connection with the DPP-Laban as early as 2017 after Pimentel participated in the Global Dialogue of Political Parties in Beijing.

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