Fishermen from the Philippines have returned to the waters around Scarborough Shoal for the first time since China seized the feature in 2012. But despite earlier claims by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, Chinese vessels have not left the disputed waters.
Philippine aerial surveillance showed Chinese coast guard ships still maintained a reduced presence, but had not blocked Filipino boats at the rocky outcrop, according to a Reuters report.
Access to the rich fishing grounds was restored following Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Beijing two weeks ago, during which he said he wants “a separation” from longtime ally the United States and announced a pivot toward China. It is unclear if any conditions were placed upon the lifting of the blockade or how long it will last.
In a regular press briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the situation at Scarborough Shoal “has not changed and will not change.”
Tiny, uninhabited Scarborough Shoal lies 123 nautical miles from the northern Philippines and around 500 nautical miles from the nearest Chinese coast. For four years, Chinese coast guard cutters maintained a blockade around the shoal, sometimes using water cannons to drive out Filipino fishermen.
Known in China as Huangyan Island, it was classified a rock by the international arbitration panel that invalidated Beijing’s claims to “historic rights” in the South China Sea in July.
The ruling, which China declared “null and void” affirmed Filipinos’ rights to living resources in the sea around Scarborough Shoal and condemned China’s attempts to repel them.
By Ryan Kilpatrick
[Photo via Qianlong]