Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr has dismissed China’s warning against conducting oil and gas exploration in the disputed South China Sea, saying that his country will assert its sovereign rights and interests in the resource-rich waters.
Marcos made the remarks on Monday, after China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said last week that Beijing “firmly opposes” any unilateral actions by the Philippines that could complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.
Zhao was responding to a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Manila had approved three new oil and gas exploration projects in the South China Sea, two of which are located in areas that overlap with China’s expansive claims.
Marcos said that the Philippines has the right to explore and exploit the natural resources within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles from its coast, as stipulated by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
He said that the Philippines will not be intimidated by China’s “baseless and excessive claims”, which have been rejected by an international arbitral tribunal in 2016. He added that the Philippines will continue to uphold the rule of law and defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the South China Sea.
Marcos also said that the Philippines is open to cooperate with other countries, including China, on joint development projects in the South China Sea, as long as they are consistent with the Philippine constitution and laws, and respect the sovereign rights and interests of the Philippines.
The South China Sea is a strategic waterway that hosts about a third of the world’s maritime trade and is believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves. China claims almost the entire sea, based on its historical rights and the so-called nine-dash line, which was invalidated by the 2016 ruling.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, and have been involved in various disputes and incidents with China over the years.
The US, which is a treaty ally of the Philippines, has been conducting frequent naval and aerial patrols in the South China Sea, to challenge China’s claims and actions, and to support the freedom of navigation and overflight in the area.
China has accused the US of interfering in the regional affairs and undermining the peace and stability in the South China Sea, and has warned the US and its allies to stop provoking and meddling in the issue.