The outgoing foreign minister of the Philippines announced Friday that talks regarding collaborative energy development in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China had been discontinued, citing constitutional limits and sovereignty concerns.
"We reached the constitutional limit of our ability. One step forward from where we stood on the verge of the abyss is a plunge into constitutional catastrophe," Teodoro Locsin said.
Since 2018, the two nations have agreed to jointly explore oil and gas assets in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), despite China's claim to them.
The dispute over maritime sovereignty between the two nations dates back decades.
"Three years later, we had not accomplished our goal of developing the vital oil and gas resources of the Philippines, but not at the cost of sovereignty; not even a speck of it," Locsin added.
It was unclear when the choice was made. The embassy of China in Manila did not respond to a request for comment immediately.
Due to China's overlapping claims, it has been difficult for the Philippines, which imports the vast majority of its fuel, to attract international partners to assist in the utilization of its offshore energy deposits.
Instead, the two nations agreed to work together, aided by the efforts of outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to improve relations with China.
Due to political sensitivities, however, many experts doubted the feasibility of such an arrangement and warned that any agreement to share energy resources could be interpreted as legitimizing the opposing side's claim or ceding sovereignty.
A 2016 international arbitration verdict established that the Philippines has sovereign rights to utilize energy deposits within its 200-mile EEZ, but China, which claims around 90 percent of the South China Sea as its territory, has refused to recognize that decision.
The two nations established a special committee to determine how they may jointly explore these areas without addressing the sensitive question of sovereignty.
Locsin, however, stated that this could not be accomplished without breaking the Philippine constitution or the Chinese government relinquishing its claims. According to him, Duterte decided to cancel the talks.
"The president had just talked... There will be no further oil and gas conversations. Nothing is unclear; everything has concluded," Locsin stated.