The disputed South China Sea may soon see an escalation in tensions over oil drilling rights between China and the Phillippines, according to Phillippine President Rodrigo Duterte who spoke to the public late on Monday.
The President’s comments came as the Filipino leader was criticized for his soft response to China’s movements in the disputed sea. China announced earlier this month that it had drilled into the sea to retrieve sediment core from the seabed in the hopes of finding natural gas hydrate resources. It was a world record for deep-sea drilling in the South China Sea.
A U.S. Navy strike group has also made its presence in the sea.
“If they start drilling oil there, I will tell China, is that part of our agreement? If that is not part of our agreement, I will also drill oil there,” Durterte said as part of the address that was quoted by Reuters.
The Philippine Coast Guard reported earlier in the week that 240 Chinese vessels remained within Manila’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea near Whitsun Reef.
China has claimed that the vessels were fishing vessels seeking shelter near the reef.
“I’m not so much interested now in fishing. I don’t think there’s enough fish to quarrel about. But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, our oil, by that time I will send my grey ships there to stake a claim,” Duterte said on Monday.
The stronger words than usual for the President may seek to somewhat appease Philippine nationalists who have openly accused Duterte of being subservient to China.
The dispute also involves territorial claims by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia—in addition to the Philippines and China. A court in The Hague in 2016 ruled against China’s claims and in favor of the Philippines. China, however, has not acknowledged the ruling, which has heightened tensions in the area.
By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com