MANILA - The Philippines on Friday launched a tender for exploration rights in 11 oil and gas blocks, including one in a disputed area of the South China Sea that is likely to fuel further tension with China.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea and is already involved in a dispute with Manila over a Chinese fishing boat that was seized this week in the Spratly Islands on suspicion its crew was poaching protected turtles species.
Beijing is also in the middle of a stand-off over an oil rig it has moved into waters claimed by Vietnam.
Philippine energy officials sought to downplay the issue of territorial dispute with China in offering to investors the so-called Area 7 in Reed Bank - or Recto Bank as it is known in the Philippines. The Area 7 block, like the rest of the South China Sea, is believed to hold huge oil and gas deposits.
Manila calls the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea. "The area we are offering in the West Philippine Sea is very near Palawan," Energy Undersecretary Ramon Allan Oca told Reuters, referring to the southwestern Philippine province.
The area is also near the Malampaya offshore natural gas oil field operated by a local unit of Royal Dutch Shell. "From the point of view of the Philippines, it is not a disputed area," Oca said. "Area 7 is within the Philippines'exclusive economic zone." China, the Philippines and Vietnam, along with Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, all claim parts of the South China Sea.