Monday, August 13, 2007

Arroyo: ‘Take next step on Spratlys’

By Michael Lim Ubac
Last updated 03:57am (Mla time) 08/11/2007

MANILA, Philippines—President Macapagal-Arroyo has urged Vietnam and other countries laying claim to the disputed Spratly island chain to take the “next step” in cooperation as she reported promising oil survey results there.

The President made the proposal during a state dinner she hosted for visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung late Thursday.

Claimants China, the Philippines and Vietnam launched a joint seismic survey two years ago to assess the potential for petroleum development on the seabed beneath the disputed South China Sea chain, also claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

“The data-gathering and analysis are expected to finish next year, but already the initial results are promising,” the President said in her speech, the text of which was released by Malacañang on Friday.

“We should now explore the possible next steps. This will be the biggest bridge that will bind our 30-year bonds,” she said of the seismic survey, called the Joint Oceanographic and Marine Scientific Research Expedition in the South China Sea.

China, Vietnam and the Philippines signed a tripartite agreement for the project in Malacañang on March 14, 2005.

The President said the joint undertaking to assess the potential of petroleum development was a breakthrough for the Philippines’ energy independence program and in providing more energy supply for the region.

She said it was also a breakthrough for regional peace and security as it was in accordance with the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China aimed at turning the disputed chain into “an area of cooperation rather than an area of conflict.”

Ms Arroyo meanwhile praised Vietnam’s leaders for opening up the communist country’s economy.

“Your fearless risk-taking structural change toward strong global engagement did not fail you. Instead it rewarded you with your impressive economic growth,” she said.

“You want Vietnam, and we want the Philippines, to actively engage in local, regional and global affairs because that is the future,” the President added.

Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in January and is enjoying rapid growth, with the economy expanding 7.87 percent in the first half of the year.

The state dinner last Thursday followed the signing of bilateral agreements in Malacañang in the areas of defense, security, energy, trade, agriculture and fisheries, health, tourism and education.

Dung, with his wife Tran Thanh Kiem, arrived on Thursday for a two-day state visit. With Agence France-Presse