The Philippines has opened the bidding process for three oil and gas exploration areas in the South China Sea, two of which are located in waters claimed by China.

China claims to own waters which lie near the Philippines, including one area 79km north-west of Palawan province, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia also claim various parts of the South China Sea.

But, Manila Department of Energy undersecretary Jose Layug has dismissed these claims, saying that the offshore areas lie "well within" the Philippines’s internationally-recognised 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, where it has "sole right to exploit resources under a UN convention."

Fifteen firms including Australia’s Nido Petroleum, Spain-based energy company Repsol, French gas and power firm GDF Suez and Italy’s Eni are pre-qualified for the bids, reports Reuters.

Bids for 12 of the 15 sites were opened in April, attracting mainly local firms.