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Oil Companies Ink Landmark S. China Sea Agreement

Oil companies of the Philippines, China and Vietnam signed a landmark tripartite agreement in Manila on Monday to conduct a joint seismic survey of oil potential in disputed areas of the South China Sea.  

The US$15-million undertaking will last for a period of three years, a move Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo described as a historic breakthrough in developing an area that has been a source of conflict between the three nations into a source of energy.


Arroyo congratulated the Philippine National Oil Company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation on their successful negotiations.


"It is not only a diplomatic breakthrough for peace and security in the region, but also a breakthrough for our energy independence program, because one of the elements of this program is to work on strategic alliances with our friends and allies so that we can have more supply of energy for the region and our country," Arroyo said when meeting the delegations from the three companies.


The survey, which is expected to begin before the start of the typhoon season this year, will cover an area of about 143,000 square kilometers.


In a joint statement, the three parties affirmed that the signing of the agreement was in accordance with the basic positions held by their respective governments to turn the South China Sea into an area of peace, stability, cooperation and development in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.


Chinese Ambassador Wu Hongbo told Xinhua that the cooperative arrangement, based on mutual understanding and common interest, would set a good example for the countries concerned to resolve the South China Sea issue peacefully.


Vietnamese Ambassador Dinh Tich said, "We have to look for the best thing for the region, for our interest. We have to do it collectively."


Philippine Energy Secretary Vincente Perez Jr. said that the agreement was a product of "oil diplomacy" and the power of persuasion during meetings that started last year. The timing is important, he noted, because of rising oil prices.


Perez emphasized that the accord is a commercial agreement that does not compromise any countries' territorial claims, although he believes that a successful study of the South China Sea's oil potential could work to resolve the long-standing conflict in the area.


He also said that the joint seismic research would only involve the use of seismic vessels but no drilling would be conducted. However, the project is a major step toward Asian energy independence.


The area around the Nansha (Spratlys) Islands is claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. Two years ago, China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations adopted a nonbinding declaration that forbids construction on the uninhabited islands to prevent territorial disputes from escalating.


(Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn March 15, 2005)

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