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US offers help to ASEAN countries on oil and gas exploration ventures

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By Myrna M. Velasco

HOUSTON, Texas – The United States (US) government is offering help to countries in the Southeast Asian region – primarily those wanting to extract oil and gas resources within their exclusive economic zones but investment flows are being impeded by diplomatic skirmish with Asian super power China.

In his keynote address at the CERAWeek here, US Department of State Secretary Michael R. Pompeo noted that Southeast Asian countries have vast resources of oil and gas – with aggregate value of US$2.5 trillion – but they cannot get their hands into these resources because of China’s ascendancy.

According to Pompeo, China’s proclivity of holding control over international waters, “is not simply a security matter, but blocking developments in the South China Sea through coercive means to access $2.5 trillion worth of their energy resources.”

He stressed that some ASEAN countries cannot stand up to China’s subjugation, so it is dangling to these countries to turn to the US for help – both on the diplomatic and investment fronts.

“The US wants to promote energy security in those ASEAN countries, we want to help them to have access to their own energy resources and not fall into debt traps,” the American top diplomat has asserted.

Beyond Asia, he further called on global investors to “come follow America’s energy blueprint which is innovative, not subjugating.”

The Philippines is among the countries in the Southeast Asian region that is currently advancing fresh round of petroleum contracting within its territories. And notably, the country was recently visited by Pompeo and had his meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.

Nevertheless, the Philippines is approaching the China diplomatic crisis in friendlier terms by pursuing joint exploration activities in these so-called conflict areas within the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.

The officials of the Philippine Department of Energy (DOE) went to the extent of qualifying that they will not process yet the applications for petroleum service contracts for those that straddle diplomatically strained blocks.

There are currently around 10 applications for service contracts within these “conflict domains,” but approvals may only come once both the Philippine government and China could already agree on a joint exploration framework and the enforced moratorium for these areas be already lifted.

Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi already forwarded official correspondence to his Chinese official-counterpart at the National Energy Administration (NEA) seeking definitive discussions on the oil and gas investment issues within the West Philippine Sea.

The energy chief disclosed that he reiterated that “request for talks with China” when he recently met with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, but he has yet to get a definitive response from his energy official peer.

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