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Duterte could use South China Sea ruling to thrash out 'favourable' oil deal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday with a plan to play his ace card — an international ruling that invalidated some of Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.

Duterte said he will use the Philippines’ 2016 international tribunal win against China, which he set aside to warm ties and tap Chinese funding, to negotiate a favorable deal with Xi to explore the disputed areas for oil.

“The President will discuss with President Xi the ways and means on how to go about the conduct and framework of a possible joint exploration,” Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement late Wednesday.

At least five agreements on economic cooperation, technology and education are set to be signed by the two leaders, Philippine envoy to China Chito Sta. Romana said.

While an oil deal where Manila gets a bigger share might appear to be a win for Duterte, it could undermine Philippine interests in the future because an agreement may give credence to China’s sea claim, said Collin Koh, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“This deal may even embolden China to demand a share of energy resources in other Southeast Asian nations’ exclusive economic zones, in waters that Beijing lays no legitimate resource claim to,” Koh said.

Chinese Warships

Duterte may also raise with Xi the presence of Chinese warships and survey vessels in Philippine waters, which has triggered diplomatic protests from Manila over the past weeks.

It’s unlikely that Duterte’s meeting with Xi will yield a concrete plan to address the issue, said Jeffrey Ordaniel, assistant professor of international security studies at Tokyo International University.

“Xi wants a good media narrative out of his meeting with Duterte,” Ordaniel said. “Certainly, China wants to create a false atmosphere of calm and cooperation in the South China Sea.”

China wants to “expand practical cooperation to ensure steady and sustained progress” in its ties with the Philippines through Xi’s meeting with Duterte, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said last week.

The meeting is also taking place amid Beijing’s crackdown on the Philippines’ billion-peso online casinos catering mostly to Chinese nationals despite a gambling ban in mainland China. Manila has stopped granting new permits for online casinos, but China wants a total ban.

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