Date
4 December 2016
A fisherman repairs his boat overlooking other vessels that fish in Scarborough shoal. Photo: Reuters
A fisherman repairs his boat overlooking other vessels that fish in Scarborough shoal. Photo: Reuters

Manila: China ships still at shoal but fishermen unchallenged

China has scaled down its presence at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea and has not interfered with Filipino fishermen.

Philippine national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon made the remarks after the government had said China had withdrawn completely, Reuters reports.

Esperon said Chinese ships were still present but had not blocked Filipino boats at Scarborough shoal, a rocky outcrop central to an international arbitration case, since President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Beijing two weeks ago.

The situation at sea remains unclear, however, as do the circumstances behind an apparent softening of China’s position regarding an area significant not only for fishing but also for the broader balance of power in the South China Sea.

China had repelled fishermen since seizing the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 but Filipino boats returned from the area at the weekend with tons of fish, broadcaster GMA reported, showing images of smiling crew and a large catch.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had on Friday declared Chinese vessels were no longer there and fishing could resume.

Duterte’s spokesman also made similar comments.

However, Esperon said military monitoring of the situation showed a reduced Chinese presence, but not a total withdrawal.

“From Oct. 17 to 27, there had been only two Chinese ships,” Esperon said in a text message. “There are no written agreements or rules but Filipino fishermen who went there lately attest that they were not driven away.”

He said in the past, on an average day, there had been about five Chinese navy and four coastguard ships.

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