/ Agencies) - The Philippine government launched a tender for the exploration
of three areas rich in oil and natural gas in the South China Sea - which Manila
calls West Philippine
Sea - an area in the center
of a bitter dispute with Beijing. The
auction should see the participation of various national and international
companies, including the French energy giant Total, Exxon USA, the Italian Eni
and Dutch Royal Shell. It
is an attempt by Manila to reduce dependence on foreign imports and to counter Beijing's
expansionist ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region, which in the past has
promoted bids for sea exploration (see AsiaNews 28/06/2012 South
China Sea, tension between Manila, Hanoi and Beijing. A code of conduct useless), triggering protests from the
Philippines and Vietnam.
The Philippine Energy Secretary Jose Layug states that all three blocks covered by the contract belong to the national territory and are located off the western island of Palawan, where large reserves of underground natural gas were recently discovered. The official also rejected Beijing's assertions that the area is within China's maritime boundaries.
"All the areas we have offered - adds Layug - are well within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines under the UNCLOS", the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Seas. The Secretary concludes that "the Philippines exercises exclusive sovereign rights and authority to explore and exploit resources within these areas to the exclusion of other countries. There is no doubt and dispute about such rights."
The archipelago in the South China Sea, potentially rich in undersea oil fields, is disputed by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Philippines and Malaysia and there have been various attempts by all parties to take possession of an atoll or other produce friction. The Philippines and Vietnam accuse Beijing of being overly aggressive in claiming sovereignty over the archipelago (see AsiaNews 04/07/2012 As China's foreign policy hardens, it is Beijing versus all). In recent weeks there have been clashes between Filipino, Vietnamese and Chinese vessels. In particular, the tension between Beijing and Manila peaked last April when a Chinese patrol vessels blocked - off Scarborough Shoal - Philippine navy boats, as they were about to stop Chinese vessels that had entered Filippino territorial waters.
The hegemonic ambitions of Beijing also worry that the United States which has increased its naval presence in the Pacific. According to experts at Brussels based organization the International Crisis Group (ICG), the prospects for settlement of disputes "are declining" and although a war is "unlikely", all signals "are going in the wrong direction."