The Philippines called on China on Saturday to “desist” from provocative actions in the disputed Spratly islands region after reports a Chinese company was exploring for oil and gas near the area.
“We call for transparency in these matters and desistance from acts that would go against the grain of peaceful, diplomatic solutions to any disputes,” presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.
The statement follows reports China’s top oil producer, PetroChina had been allowed to explore for oil and gas in the southern part of the South China Sea, in an area reportedly close to the Spratly islands.
China and the Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, lay claim to areas around the Spratlys, which straddle vital shipping lanes and fishing grounds and are believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves.
All but Brunei have troops posted across the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls.
Bunye said the Philippines was confident China would continue to respect such conventions as the “code of conduct” signed by all parties in 2002, calling on them to refrain from actions that could break the fragile peace in the South China Sea.
But he added that “we must rally behind the preservation and defense of our sovereign rights in line with internationally accepted statutes and processes.”
In the past, disputes over the Spratlys have erupted into violence. The most serious incident occurred in 1988 when Chinese and Vietnamese naval forces clashed at Johnson Reef, resulting in the deaths of 78 Vietnamese navy personnel.
The communist neighbors clashed again in the Spratlys in 1992, and since then there have been numerous other incidents between the six claimants.