South China Sea
Tanker Yuri Senkevich sails near the Lufeng oil field, 250 kilometers southeast of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. Reuters

The Philippines wants to develop a natural gas field in a disputed area of the South China Sea that is also claimed by China.

Philippine exploration company Philex Petroleum Corp. said Tuesday that it has found a larger-than-expected reserve of natural gas under the Reed Bank, which sits some 90 miles from the Philippine island of Palawan. But the area is the site of tensions between China and the Philippines and last year, a Chinese military vessel tried to ram a survey ship owned by Forum Energy, a unit of Philex.

According to a report from Forum Energy, the Sampaguita field has a potential yield of 20 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, more than five times initial estimates, according to Reuters.

Reading the statements [of higher reserves on the Reed Bank], I cannot help but smile and be happy because hopefully it's true, and its big resources will help us face the need for energy in the future, Energy Secretary Rene Almendras told the AFP.

The Philippines could give out contracts for 15 sites in the South China Sea, at least two of which are claimed by China, by July.

The South China Sea became the pivot point of regional military tensions last year, when China sent warships into the waters that are also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Earlier this month, another diplomatic impasse occurred when the Filipino navy stopped and boarded eight Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, prompting a standoff when Chinese surveillance ships tried to prevent arrests. This incident led to a three week-long military standoff, which both sides sending warships to the area.