I was pleasantly surprised to read that although Manila has filed its case in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) dispute in the UNCLOS, it remains open to joint development. This is wise way to go instead of getting stuck in verbal tussles through media.

If China needs the oil, so do we because of our burgeoning population. According to the Department of Energy the Philippines needs to be 60 percent self-sufficient in energy by 2024. That is why the Philippines needs to continue exploring for oil especially around the disputed area with China. While we have filed a case for arbitration, efforts must continue for a joint venture with China. The claim for ownership is separate from forging a joint venture. We should take advantage that China remains open to a joint venture solution.

I believe this is the basis for Manny V. Pangilinan’s pursuit for joint development through a commercial venture in SC72 that promises to be a big find — some 3.4 trillion cubic feet of gas according to a Forum Energy report. Forum Energy in owned by Philex Petroleum. There are other promising oil and gas blocks in the area.

As PNOC said in its report, “The Philippines sits in the middle of the Asia Pacific region, surrounded by countries with substantial oil and gas assets, yet the Philippines has very low proven reserves. This either means the country is extremely unlucky or it has not yet begun to scratch the surface in terms of exploring its hydrocarbons potential.”

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But to be able to do more exploration, we would need the cooperation of China. That is a given. It makes sense therefore that finding solutions to the problem should be made in this direction because China is open to it. Criticize and analyze it if we must but always with the intention of finding a solution that will be acceptable to all.

Vietnamese Huy Danh Duong of the Southeast Asian Sea Research Foundation wrote “Taking into account the complexity of the South China Sea dispute and the absence of any solution, setting aside dispute and pursuing joint development may be acceptable, but only if it is done in a fair way.” So what is the fair way?

The task is to find a fair joint venture agreement within the parameters of the Deng Xiaoping and Manny V. Pangilinan formulas.

Another Vietnamese Professor Ji Guoxing echoed Duong. He suggested that first of all, all parties in the dispute have to agree to a common overall framework for exploiting the resources in the South China Sea.

To achieve this the dispute has to be depoliticized or as Philippine entrepreneur MV Pangilinan suggested it should be treated as a commercial venture. The exchanges that took place between the Chinese and Vietnamese also concerns the Philippines.

In the conference, Chinese Ambassador Tang Guó Qiáng to Vietnam:  “Once the right conditions come and the two sides are able to solve the dispute, it is assured that our relationship will grow better. In contrast, when the conditions are not right and prevent us from gaining a better relationship, what we should do is to set aside the dispute.

“More effort and co-operation is needed to improve the relationship between the two countries. While growing the bilateral relationship and waiting for the right conditions, both sides have more time to solve the dispute and may find a better solution.”

In his book, “When China rules the World” China expert Martin Jacques distinguishes between China’s tributary system and the West’s Westphalian approaches to sovereignty.

“The tributary system involving a hierarchical relationship and the latter based on relations of equality between sovereign state-nations. But in fact in the Westphalian system of the West “the great majority of countries in the world did not enjoy independence, let alone equality.”

It is possible for China to enter into joint venture with less powerful countries through their tributary system. This aspect should be explored to tackle the seeming contradiction with proceeding with joint venture without deciding on ownership.

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No one was discussing the South China sea (West Philippine sea) conflict in the joint venture between Manila Hotel and the Chan Lim family of painters. It may not be as momentous as a territorial dispute, but I found yet another example of people to people cooperation. Here was the key to finding solutions. People must know each other not just in politics but in all other aspects of life possible. People to people is the best diplomacy and I daresay should be cultivated whether in conflict or out of conflict.

It was the first time I would meet the family but apparently they have established a reputation as teachers of Chinese painting.

On the part of the Manila Hotel they provided a banquet of traditional food for Chinese New Year.

At the centerpiece of the hall was a fish shaped tikoy. Mabuhay Palace executive chef Sun Bing and his team created a special set menu that includes an appetizer-to-dessert-themed feast for luck and prosperity. The 10-course set menu includes seafood dishes like Deep Fried Minced Shrimp Balls with Shrimp Glazed Almonds, Steamed Live Flambeed Garoupa, and Slow-Cooked Assorted Seafood Hot Pot, to name a few. Dessert includes fish-shaped tikoy sliced and fried for serving.

Along the corridors were fans painted in Chinese brush style by the family and their students. The Chan Lims have been giving Chinese painting lessons to all nationalities including ambassadors and prominent members of society. I began my first lesson after the lunch. As one of the students showed me how to hold the brush she said, being a student means that once you have learned it there are two things you must do — one is to exhibit your work and second is to teach it to others.

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Elizabeth Medina’s Thru the Lens of Latin America: A Wide Angle View of the Philippines Colonial Experience comes to mind.

She says something very relevant to my weekend of reading on the South China sea problem and becoming a student of Chinese painting.

“The final and greatest actor of history is the human whole — but a human whole that is made up of a constellation of sub protagonists right down to the individuals. Great men and women do not make history by themselves, but represent, interpret and make visible the unexpressed collective wishes of the larger human groups to which they belong. Neither do societies and nations float around in the stratosphere they exist within the context of great civilizations which in turn continuously undergo dynamic processes of birth, development and decline.”

– Carmen N. Pedrosa