South China Sea tensions soar as Philippines authorise drills without Beijing’s permission

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The South China Sea is home to huge oil and natural gas reserves believed to be under the water’s seabed. The Philippines’ Energy Secretary, Alfonso Cusi, said the PXP Energy Corporation can survey the Reed Bank in the South China Sea without partnership with China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

Under a service contract, a unit of the Philippine oil exploration company has the right to drill for oil and gas in the area.

During a virtual briefing, Mr Cusi said the PXP Energy Corporation “can do it by themselves, go ahead”.

He added: “If they can’t do it and they need a partner, they have to partner with China.”

The chairman of PXP, Manuel Pangilinan, said the corporation had submitted a preliminary work programme to the Department of Energy.

Last week, Mr Pangilinan said the Reed Bank may need another survey.

China is expected to block the new exploration in the contested waters.

The Reed Bank is a large tablemount, a mountain under water, in the South China Sea.

It covers an area of over 8,800 square kilometres rich in hydrocarbon.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in 2016 that the region is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

China has disputed economic rights in the area adding to the water tensions.

Last month, the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte lifted a six-year ban on South China Sea oil exploration.

A spokesman for the president described the move as an affirmation of the Philippines’ rights in the disputed waters.

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The ban on oil and gas exploration was imposed by Mr Duterte’s predecessor.

President Duterte has hardened his stance towards China, moving closer to the US.

America has also ramped up its criticisms of China’s actions in the disputed waters.

The US has sent warships through the disputed waters which Beijing has repeatedly condemned.

China has claimed a large part of the South China Sea as its own which has sparked disputes over the years.

Last month, a US Navy carrier conducted exercises in the waters despite the rising tensions.

The ship travelled through the Strait of Malacca before entering the South China Sea to conduct training.

In a statement, the US Navy said the strike group undertook maritime strike exercises and coordinated tactical training.

The US Navy said that exercises are completed to “build and maintain war fighting readiness that is responsible, flexible, and honours enduring commitments to mutual defence agreements with regional allies and partners”.

Commander Rear Adm. George Wikoff, added: “Throughout our deployment, we continue our long tradition demonstrating the United States’ commitment to the lawful use of the seas and maintaining open access to the international commons.”

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