Wed, Oct 19, 2016 - Page 1 News List

China might allow fishing in Scarborough: sources

Reuters, BEIJING

China will consider giving Philippine fishermen conditional access to disputed waters in the South China Sea after the presidents of the two countries meet in Beijing this week, two Chinese sources with ties to the leadership said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte plans to raise the plight of Philippine fishermen when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) tomorrow, a Philippine official told reporters.

Duterte was last night scheduled to arrive in Beijing from Brunei.

China seized the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) — known as Panatag in the Philippines — in 2012, denying Philippine fishermen access to its fish-rich waters.

The seizure formed part of a case the Philippines took to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, Netherlands, which in July rejected China’s territorial claims over much of the South China Sea, including its assertion of an exclusive economic zone around the disputed Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島).

China immediately declared the ruling “null and void,” but said it is time to get talks started again between the countries directly involved in the territorial disputes to reach a peaceful resolution.

Beijing is now considering making a concession to Duterte, whose rapprochement with China since taking office on June 30 marks an astonishing reversal in recent Philippine foreign policy.

“Everybody can go, but there will be conditions,” one of the Chinese sources, who regularly speaks with senior officials, told reporters, referring to Chinese and Philippine fishermen.

Asked what the conditions were, the source said: “The two countries would have to form working groups to iron out details.”

However, it was unclear if China would agree to joint coast guard patrols.

The sources did not say what, if anything, China might demand from Manila in exchange for the fishing concession.

“It will be a return to the Arroyo days,” the second Chinese source said, referring to the administration of former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when fishermen from both countries had access to waters near Scarborough.

If all goes according to script, fishery cooperation would be one of more than 10 broad framework agreements the two countries would sign during Duterte’s visit, the sources said, without giving further details.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said it had “no comment at this time.”

China has overlapping claims in the South China Sea with Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The US, along with Japan and other powers, want to ensure Beijing does not interfere with free navigation in the strategic South China Sea, which connects the Indian and Pacific Oceans and through which flows US$5 trillion of trade each year.

US Navy ships have conducted “freedom of navigation” operations around artificial islands China has been building in the disputed Spratly Islands, which mostly consist of coral reefs and tidal features.

When asked yesterday whether China would offer concessions to the Philippines on the South China Sea, including fishing rights around Scarborough, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) did not answer directly.

“China’s position on the South China Sea is clear and consistent. There is no change and there will be no change. This position accords with historical facts and international law,” he said.

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