South China Sea exploration with China, Vietnam to be 'carefully considered'

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(File photo) Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 17) — Any joint activity in disputed waters in the South China Sea will have to be "carefully considered," Malacanang Palace said on Wednesday.

"Those things will have to be carefully considered by the appropriate departments and agencies," Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella told CNN Philippines' The Source.

The comment comes after newly appointed Special Envoy for Intercultural Dialogue Jose de Venecia raised the idea of joint exploration projects with China and Vietnam in South China Sea.

In a press conference upon his arrival from Cambodia, Hong Kong, and China, President Rodrigo Duterte recalled De Venecia's suggestion was a proposal from former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's term.

"Tingnan muna kung 'di ba ako malugi [We have to check if we won't be shortchanged]? It has to be fair and it has to be balanced," Duterte said Tuesday. "So if we can get something there with no hassle at all, so why not?"

Abella also reiterated, "[The President] said if properly studied... we may consider that."

He said their consideration was also because of other neighboring countries' claims in the area.

"It's not something that we can just enter into lightly. It's something that has to be carefully considered," said Abella. "Again, let me just say that being open is something that has to be carefully considered. It's not a given."

Prior to Duterte's term, a joint exploration with China was not on the Philippines' horizon. With its stake and military presence in the South China Sea, the eastern giant has refused to acknowledge an international arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines' claim over disputed islands in the region.

Duterte has taken a foreign policy shift away from long-time ally United States, warming up relations in the east.

Bilateral talks with China

The Philippines is also looking forward to its bilateral talks with China on the maritime row, which will begin this week in Beijing.

"Well, I cannot provide the finer details but it will be sometime this week, I think the 19th," said Abella. "The code of conduct will be discussed."

Southeast Asian leaders are aiming to finalize the framework of the code of conduct by June at the latest. The code is set to facilitate talks with China and Southeast Asian nations over their conflicting claims over the islands.

So far, the administration has kept mum on the arbitral ruling in China's presence, and it will not be raising it at the upcoming talks.

Related: Arbitral ruling will not be raised at bilateral talks with China - DFA

"[China] mentioned that... certain issues would not be discussed in the preliminary stage," said Abella. "But also that at the right time, things would be discussed."

Duterte returned from his second trip to China, where he signed key agreements in economic and technical cooperation, human resource development, energy and news publishing.

He is also scheduled to visit Russia next week, a trip Abella estimates will take six days. The visit seeks to strengthen socioeconomic and cultural ties, and will look at the areas of economics and people-to-people exchange, Abella said.

"I don't know if there is much to be expected in terms of signing or anything like that," said Abella. "Basically it will be I think just the President broadening his horizons, his international relations."