MANILA, Nov 7 (Reuters) – The Philippines is ready with two joint oil and gas exploration agreements to be signed with China, its energy minister said on Wednesday, and reiterated his position calling for the lifting of the ban on drilling works in a disputed area in South China Sea.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi made the statement ahead of the scheduled visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Philippines later this month as the two countries seek to strengthen economic ties.

One of the deals involves an exploration project between state-owned Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) and Chinese state-owned CNOOC Ltd, located off Calamian in southwestern Palawan province, Cusi said in a news briefing.

Cusi was referring to Service Contract 57 covering an oil and gas prospect awarded to PNOC’s exploration unit, which picked CNOOC as a partner.

He did not give details about the other agreement, but said Service Contract 72, an exploration permit held by the Philippines’ PXP Energy Corp for Reed Bank, a disputed South China Sea area, is not one of the two.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to be rich in energy reserves and marine resources. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.

“Definitely not SC 72,” Cusi said.

PXP has had talks with CNOOC for joint exploration and development for the Sampaguita natural gas prospect at Reed Bank, before the DOE suspended drilling works there in late 2014 due to the territorial dispute.

Although he refrained from giving details about issues to be discussed with Xi during the visit, Cusi reiterated his call for the lifting of the Reed Bank exploration ban.

“The issue of the lifting is being taken care of by the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) because of the diplomatic issue,” Cusi said. “As far as the DOE is concerned, so that we can resume exploration, we need to lift that moratorium.” (Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

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