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South China Sea: Like Vietnam, Duterte Teams Up With Russia To Stop China

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is beginning to learn a lesson or two from Vietnam in dealing with China’s aggression in the South China Sea: Team up with Russia’s  Rosneft to explore for oil and gas in Philippine waters being claimed by Beijing.

That’s according to an article published in Rappler by Pia Ranada. Rosneft will search for oil and gas in several parts of the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, which Beijing insists on claiming through its 9-dash line.

With this line as its basis, China claims the South China Sea its own sea, and it has been doing whatever it takes to advance its ambitions. Like the construction of artificial islands, in violation of international tribunal rulings – including one favoring the Philippines back in 2016. And like threatening its neighbors, by sailing its vessels in disputed waters.

Teaming up with Rosneft signals another shift on Manila’s stance South China Sea disputes. Since 2016, Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte has tried different policies to deal with China’s claims, seeking a “divorce” from Washington to warm up to Beijing one day, and seeking a “divorce” from Beijing to warm up back to the Washington again the next day.

Apparently, President Duterte tried to save peace in the region. But it didn’t work. The Philippines has already paid a heavy price for his South China Sea policy flip-flops in the form of repeated challenges to the country’s sovereignty by Beijing.

Now, Duterte is trying something different. He’s teaming up with a Russian company, whose primary shareholder is the Russian government, is a smart move for Duterte.

“Russia, unlike China, is not claiming sovereign rights over the South China Sea and its companies are willing to explore for natural resources as contractors of states with such rights,” says Ranada. “Awarding service contracts to firms would not violate the Philippine Constitution since these deals explicitly state the areas involved are covered by Philippine sovereignty or sovereign rights. The companies would be coming in as mere service contractors to the government.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s presence in the disputed waters could change the game in the region, as it will pit Beijing against Moscow.

Rosneft is the same company Vietnam deployed to search for oil and gas in its own waters disputed by China a few months ago. And its presence in Vietnam waters already altered the equation there. It is extremely difficult for Beijing to confront the Russian navy, ready to defend the interests of Moscow in the region. 

The move trimmed China’s South China Sea ambitions, and saved peace in the region.

And it could do the same for the Philippines, provided that Duterte doesn’t flip-flop, again.

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