Philippines’ Duterte says Xi offering gas deal if arbitration case ignored

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has acknowledged he’s short of solutions for having China adhere to Manila’s arbitration victory in their South China Sea disputes. (File/AP)
Updated 11 September 2019

Philippines’ Duterte says Xi offering gas deal if arbitration case ignored

  • If Duterte ignores the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling, China would agree to be the junior partner in a joint venture to develop gas deposits at the Reed Bank
  • The tribunal in The Hague clarified maritime boundaries and the Philippines’ sovereign entitlements

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said his Chinese counterpart has offered Manila a controlling stake in a joint energy venture in the South China Sea, if it sets aside an international arbitral award that went against Beijing.
Duterte said Chinese President Xi Jinping told him during their recent meeting that if he ignored the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling, China would agree to be the junior partner in a joint venture to develop gas deposits at the Reed Bank, located within Manila’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“Set aside the arbitral ruling,” Duterte was quoted as telling reporters late Tuesday in remarks provided by his office on Wednesday.
“Set aside your claim,” he said, quoting Xi. “Then allow everybody connected with the Chinese companies. They want to explore. If there is something, they said, we will be gracious enough to give you 60%, only 40% will be theirs. That is the promise of Xi Jinping.”
China’s foreign ministry and its embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Duterte’s remarks.
The tribunal in The Hague clarified maritime boundaries and the Philippines’ sovereign entitlements, and in doing so, invalidated China’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea. China does not recognize the ruling.
Duterte has sought to befriend Xi, hoping to secure billions of dollars of investment, avoiding challenging China over its activities in the South China Sea, including its militarised artificial islands.
Big setback
Any agreement to forget the arbitral award and team up with China would be a major setback to other claimants, especially Vietnam and Malaysia, which like the Philippines have experienced repeated challenges from China’s coast guard inside their EEZs.
The United States has called that bullying and coercion aimed at denying rivals’ access to their energy assets.
Duterte did not say if he had agreed to Xi’s offer, but said the part of the arbitral award that referred to the EEZ “we will ignore to come up with an economic activity.”
The tribunal said the Philippines had legal rights to exploit gas deposits that China also claims at the Reed Bank, about 85 miles (140km) off the Philippine coast.
The Philippines only accessible gas resources at the Malampaya fields are set to run out by 2024.
A joint project with China has been talked about for decades, but has gone nowhere because of their competing claims. Joint activity could be deemed as legitimising the other side’s claim, or even relinquishing sovereign rights.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin on Wednesday told news channel ANC that a preliminary agreement between China and the Philippines would avoid stating which country was entitled to the gas.
“It’s very clear — no legal position is compromised if we enter into this agreement,” Locsin said, adding that putting aside the arbitration case was immaterial, because an international court had already made its decision.
“It’s final and binding,” he added.


Lebanon removes banking secrecy rules to fight corruption

Updated 40 min ago

Lebanon removes banking secrecy rules to fight corruption

  • The move opens the way for investigations into bank accounts of current and former officials such as Cabinet ministers

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament approved on Thursday a law to remove decades-old banking secrecy rules in order to better fight rampant corruption that has pushed the country to the edge of economic collapse.
The move opens the way for investigations into bank accounts of current and former officials such as Cabinet ministers, legislators and civil servants, state-run National News Agency reported.
The restoration of stolen public money in the corruption-plagued nation has been a key demand of protesters who have been demonstrating since mid-October against Lebanon’s ruling elite, which they blame for widespread corruption and mismanagement.
The approval of the law came two months after the Cabinet approved a draft resolution to abolish the country’s banking secrecy laws, which have turned tiny Lebanon into the region’s Switzerland, attracting clients from around the Arab world who prized the anonymity its banks offered.
The new law gives powers to National Anti-corruption Commission and a Special Investigative Committee at the central bank to investigate bank account of officials, the report said.
For Thursday’s session, Lebanese lawmakers convened inside a Beirut theater so that they could observe social distancing measures imposed during the pandemic. Dozens of anti-government demonstrators briefly clashed with riot police outside as legislators met.
As lawmakers in face masks arrived at the theater, known as the UNESCO palace, paramedics sprayed them with disinfectant before they entered, one at a time.
Lebanon has been facing its worst economic crisis in decades, with unemployment figures soaring and the local currency losing more than half of its value against the dollar.
After the banking secrecy measure was passed, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri suspended the session until later in the afternoon when the legislators were to discuss a draft general amnesty law.
The amnesty issue has deeply divided parliamentary blocs, with Christian groups calling for pardoning Lebanese who fled to Israel after it ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, while former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and others want the release of hundreds of Islamists held as terror suspects.
Lebanon and Israel are at a state of war and some Lebanese who fled to Israel now hold Israeli citizenship. Scores of protesters demonstrated in Beirut and southern Lebanon on Thursday against pardoning those living in Israel.