GT Voice: Risky, short-sighted for Manila to rely on US in SCS energy search
Published: Mar 12, 2024 10:37 PM
US in South China Sea Illustration:Liu Rui/GT

US in South China Sea Illustration:Liu Rui/GT

Regardless of the Philippines' real intentions behind its plans to invite external forces into energy exploration in the South China Sea, the prerequisite is that it cannot harm China's interests. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Monday that the exploration of resources in the South China Sea should not harm China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and no one should draw forces outside the region into the issue.

The warning came after Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez claimed that the Philippines is counting on the US and its allies to play a crucial role in its plans to explore energy resources in the South China Sea, Bloomberg reported on Sunday.

The envoy's remarks on inviting the US to invest in oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea once again highlighted the tension in the region. The Philippines has made frequent statements regarding the South China Sea issue in recent days, causing great concern over the more intense and complicated regional situation.

The Philippines' attempt to seek US cooperation on energy exploration is nothing but a trial to put pressure on China, which is essentially encroaching on China's maritime territory with military and economic support from the US. However, it should be pointed out that no matter what the Philippines has in mind regarding energy exploration in the South China Sea, the red line that cannot be crossed is that China's interests and sovereignty must not be harmed. Any attempt to encroach on China's maritime territory with the help of US power will inevitably face retaliation.

From the perspective of regional peace and stability, what the Philippines has recently been engaged in is actually inviting a wolf into its house for its own short-sighted purposes, disregarding the overall stability of the region. 

By stirring up tension with various excuses, it has made the situation in the region more complicated, to the detriment of regional peace and economic development. Even if cooperation between the Philippines and the US brings some diplomatic support with ulterior motives to the Philippines, can Manila really bear the consequences of undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea?

The South China Sea issue has been receiving much attention, and it involves territorial sovereignty, resource development, geopolitics and many other considerations. In the meantime, the South China Sea is the busiest, safest and freest waterway in the world.

For decades, 50 percent of the world's merchant vessels have sailed through this waterway, accounting for one-third of maritime trade, and this has never been disrupted or hampered. Amid turbulence in the world, peace and stability in the South China Sea have been maintained thanks to the collective efforts of China and ASEAN countries, which should be cherished.

China has always been committed to properly handling maritime disputes in the South China Sea with countries directly concerned, including the Philippines, through dialogue and consultation. China is also actively exploring options for practical maritime cooperation, including joint exploration. 

Since China put forward its initiative of "pursuing joint development while shelving disputes" in the 1980s, it has made many meaningful explorations and experiments with regional countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. 

In 2018, China and the Philippines signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development. While regional cooperation in the South China Sea faces many challenges for various reasons, this is not a reason to introduce external forces to cause more instability in the region.

Everyone knows that some forces outside the region want to use instability in the South China Sea to contain China for their own geopolitical calculations and hegemony. They are eager to sow the seeds of chaos in the region. If oil and gas exploration becomes another springboard for the US to intervene in the South China Sea issue, regional peace will be at risk. It would be naive to expect the US to have any concern about the impact of instability on regional industrial chains and economic development.

This is why regional countries in the South China Sea must be vigilant about the possibility of falling victim to a new geopolitical game involving countries from outside the region, whether it be in terms of economic cooperation or territorial disputes.

Fundamentally speaking, to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea, China and ASEAN countries need to return to the track of dialogue and consultation based on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed in 2002. 

Accelerating negotiations on a Code of Conduct and establishing regional rules that are more effective, substantive and in line with international law will be key to regional stability and peace. This is in the interests of all regional countries, including the Philippines.