THE new détente between Manila and Beijing has enabled Filipinos to fish again without fear of being driven away by the Chinese coast guards in the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal/Bajo de Masinloc or Huangyan Dao) in Zambales.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the latest development was an offshoot of the successful visit of President Rodrigo Duterte to China which has put the relations between the Philippines and China back on track.
“We have seen all-round improvement of China-Philippines relations following President Duterte's visit to China. Under such circumstances, the Chinese side makes proper arrangements based on the friendship between China and the Philippines in response to the issue of President Duterte's concern,” Hua said referring to the Filipino fishermen who can now fish freely in Scarborough.
She emphasized however that the Chinese side has always been exercising normal jurisdiction over Scarborough.
“The situation there is and will remain unchanged,” Hua said.
Earlier, another Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, blamed the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III for the fate of the Filipino fishermen in Zambales.
“As we have been saying, before the erroneous policy of the previous Philippine government led to the deterioration of China-Philippine relations, the two countries had been properly managing disputes related to the South China Sea through bilateral dialogue and consultation and conducting cooperation, for the most part of the history since the establishment of diplomatic relations,” Lu said.
However, he said with President Duterte's visit, bilateral relations have turned a new page of all-around improvement.
“Under such circumstances, it is fully possible for the two countries to return to the track of managing disputes through consultation and focusing on cooperation,” he stressed.
Lu said during Duterte’s visit to China, the two sides discussed fishery cooperation in the South China Sea, including fishing industrial cooperation.
“What I can tell you is that the two sides are in communication on this,” he added.
After Duterte’s trip to China, Filipino fishermen are now back at Panatag Shoal. Scarborough Shoal lies about 118 nautical miles west of Zambales province and within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as specified by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In April 2012 a Philippine warship tried to arrest Chinese fishermen, whose presence in the shoal was illegal.
The Chinese Coast Guard intervened, resulting in a standoff that went on for months.