Philippine and Chinese officials met in Manila last week to discuss the possibility of working together to find energy assets in the South China Sea, a hotly contested waterway that hosts competing territorial claims from both nations.
“I can tell you we are pursuing it aggressively because we need it,” Bloomberg reported Philippine foreign affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano as saying.
Cayetano added that the Philippines would finalise a legal framework that makes joint exploration possible within the next three months, a development he said was crucial given the Malampaya gas field was running out of supply.
While campaigning for the presidency, then mayor of Davao City Rodrigo Duterte pledged to ride a jet ski to the Spratly islands – a scattering of reefs and islands within the Philippine’s exclusive economic zone that have bore witness to rampant Chinese militarization – and raise the Philippine flag.
However, since assuming office, Duterte’s rhetoric towards the regional superpower has somewhat softened. In an attempt to engage the government of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the pugnacious leader even announced his “separation” from the US during a trip to Beijing in October 2016.
“I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” he said. “Maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”
During his country’s chairmanship of the Asean Summit in 2017, Duterte also prevented the regional bloc from issuing statements that criticized China’s controversial island building activities in the South China Sea.