Oil companies of the Philippines, China and Vietnam Monday signed a landmark tripartite agreement in Manila Monday.
According to the agreement, a 15 million US dollar joint marine seismic undertaking in the South China Sea will last for a period of three years, a move that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo described as a "historic breakthrough" in developing the area of conflict among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Beijing into a possible energy source.
Arroyo congratulated the Philippine National Oil Company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation for the successful negotiations to have the accord.
"This is a historic event because it is the first, it is the breakthrough in implementing the provisions of the code of conduct in the South China Sea among ASEAN and China to turn the South China Sea into an area of cooperation rather than an area of conflict," Arroyo said when meeting the delegations from the three companies.
"It is not only a diplomatic breakthrough for peace and security in the region, but also a breakthrough for our energy independence program because one of the elements of this program, is to work on strategic alliances with our friends and allies so that we can have more supply of energy for the region and our country," she added.
In a joint statement, the three parties expressed their desire to engage in the joint research of petroleum resource potential in the agreement area as a pre-exploration activity.
The term of the agreement will be three years and is expected to begin before the rainy or the arrival of the typhoon season. The joint activities will cover an area of about 143,000 square kilometers.
In the statement, the three parties affirmed that the signing of the tripartite agreement would not undermine the basic positions held by their respective governments on the South China Sea into an area of peace, stability, cooperation and development in accordance with the 1982 United Nation's Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
Chinese ambassador Wu Hongbo told Xinhua that the trilateral cooperation, based on the mutual understanding and common interest, would set a good example for the countries concerned to resolve the South China Sea issue in a peaceful way.
"We have to look for the best thing for the region, for our interest. We have to do it collectively," Vietnamese ambassador Dinh Tich told reporters.
Philippine Energy Secretary Vincente Perez Jr. said that the agreement was a product of "oil diplomacy" and power of persuasion during meetings and dialogues that started since last year.
Perez clarified that what was signed was a mere commercial agreement that would not compromise ant countries territorial claims over the area.
He also said that the joint seismic research would only involve the use of seismic vessels but no drilling would be conducted.
"We will just study the potential petroleum resources of the area... This is very important...This is also right on time because of the rising oil prices. This is a big step forwards the so-called Asian energy independence," Perez said.
He noted that a successful study of the South China Sea's oil potential could also work to finally resolve the long-standing conflict in the area.
Other claimants who might want to participate or raise concerns over the agreement could talk to the Philippines, China and Vietnam, he added.