China may strike a “wholesale” deal that will give Philippine fishing vessels access to disputed Scarborough Shoal waters in the South China Sea, Reuters reports.
China has been thinking of means to grant Philippine fishing vessels access to the island’s waters since President Rodrigo Duterte visited Beijing in October, said Wu Shicun, head of government-run National Institute for South China Sea Studies.
“A wholesale bilateral fishing industry deal is still being discussed, an agreement has not yet been reached,” Wu told a forum in Beijing.
China’s bitter squabble with the Philippines over the waters has subsided since Duterte’s visit, which came shortly after a Netherlands-based arbitration court ruled in favor of the Philippines, undermining China’s territorial claims.
Since 2012, China had used its coast guard to block the waters around the shoal from Filipinos, but Chinese vessels reportedly left the region after Duterte’s visit, allowing fishermen to return.
Last week, Duterte made a unilateral declaration barring fishermen from exploiting marine life at a tranquil lagoon that was central to years of bitter squabbling, a sharp reversal in the Philippines’ previous policy.
At this time, the waters within the shoal are not accessible to either Chinese or Filipino fishermen, Wu said.
Fishermen would be granted access to the shoal for humanitarian reasons if a typhoon hit the waters, he said.
Wu has been involved in diplomatic efforts to bring China and the Philippines closer together since Duterte’s election.
Zhu Feng, director of the South China Sea Center at Nanjing University, said there had been a “fundamental change” since Duterte came into office.
The “Scarborough Shoal push”, if successful, would give hope that the disputes within the South China Sea may be diplomatically resolved, he said.
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