Duterte, Xi discussed possibility of joint exploration – Cayetano

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President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 12) —  President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks for possible joint exploration in the South China Sea, said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

According to Cayetano, Xi said issues surrounding disputed waters in the South China Sea were complex, but that if they were handled properly, it could make the South China Sea an area of peace and stability.

Duterte then said that it was important that people see the benefit of the friendship between the Philippines and China.

"How important was that statement made by the two leaders? Very important, because it's basically the go signal to come up with a framework, and if it's acceptable to both sides, we could see the joint exploration done soon," Cayetano said  in a press briefing in Hong Kong, Wednesday.

According to Cayetano, Xi said that "China, if that's what the Philippines wants, is willing to discuss and find a solution in that area."

Duterte met with Xi on the sidelines of Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan, China before leaving for Hong Kong on Tuesday evening.

The Philippines and China have competing claims in the South China Sea, but an International Arbitral ruling in July 2016 affirmed that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea (in the South China Sea).

Cayetano said it was "clear to both sides that we will stick to our guns, we'll stick to our claims. And let's see how we can get anything from there."

And while it wasn't discussed, Cayetano said the first exploration could involve finding out availability of resources in the area.

"It's research work to see how much gas, if any, is there. Now when we see the amounts and everything, then we can go to the next step. Is it viable? Is there a commercial quantity? What's the quality of the oil that's there. And from there, that's the only time you think about development," he said.

Cayetano added he has also talked to other claimants and has assured them the country would only talk to China in areas where the dispute was only between the Philippines and China.