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China, Philippines in 'friendly' understanding on shoal: official
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) Oct 31, 2016


China ships still at disputed shoal, fishermen back: Manila
Manila (AFP) Oct 30, 2016 - Chinese coastguard ships are still patrolling the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea but are not stopping Filipinos from fishing there, a Philippine defence spokesman said Sunday.

The information -- from fishermen who have just returned from the shoal -- came despite earlier Philippine government statements that the Chinese had left the outcrop they seized in 2012.

A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte had said Saturday there were no longer signs of Chinese ships at the shoal, after Duterte visited China to repair frayed ties.

However Defence Department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the fishermen who visited the shoal on Saturday still saw Chinese coastguard ships there.

"Filipino fishermen, who have been to Bajo de Masinloc, (the local name for Scarborough Shoal) say that they have observed an undetermined number of Chinese white ships in the area but (the Filipinos) were not subjected to any harassment by these vessels and they were able to fish in peace," he said in a statement on Sunday.

China took control of Scarborough Shoal, 230 kilometres (140 miles) west of the main Philippine island of Luzon, in 2012. It drove Filipino fishermen away from the rich fishing ground, sometimes using water cannons.

In a case brought by then-president Benigno Aquino, the Philippines won a resounding victory over China at an international tribunal earlier this year.

In a judgement that infuriated Beijing, the tribunal ruled in July there was no basis for China's claims to most of the South China Sea -- where several nations have competing partial claims.

However Aquino's successor Duterte played down this victory in a visit to China earlier this month, putting territorial disputes on the back-burner and focusing instead on Chinese aid.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Duterte there was no reason for hostility and difficult topics "could be shelved temporarily".

The Chinese occupation of the shoal has been a sore point in relations, with Filipino fishermen frequently complaining that Chinese ships drive them away from their fishing grounds.

Duterte had hinted at the possibility of a Chinese withdrawal upon his return from Beijing, saying: "We'll just wait for a few more days. We might be able to return to Scarborough Shoal."

Newspaper reports on Sunday also said fishermen from the northern province of Pangasinan were able to fish at Scarborough Shoal, with the Chinese watching but not interfering.

"Happy days are here again," the Philippine Star quoted one fisherman as saying.

The Philippines and China have reached a "friendly" understanding allowing Filipinos to fish around a disputed shoal seized by Beijing in 2012, a senior aide to President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday.

Duterte negotiated the understanding during his recent meeting in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping, said Manila's national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

As a result, he said, in recent days Filipino fishermen have been able to fish unmolested at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea while Chinese government vessels have patrolled nearby.

"There is no agreement... but our president believes that our fishermen will no longer be harassed because he already brought up this matter" during his visit to China, Esperon told the media.

"The coastguard of China is there, but their navy is gone. And now, our fishermen are no longer being accosted, no longer being forced out, so we can say things are now friendly," he added.

China took control of Scarborough Shoal, 230 kilometres (140 miles) west of the main Philippine island of Luzon, in 2012. It had been driving away Filipino fishermen from the rich fishing ground, sometimes using water cannon.

But last weekend Filipino fishermen were once more able to fish at the shoal with the Chinese ships not interfering.

Esperon stressed that neither country dropped its claim to the shoal, with China insisting on its "historical rights".

China claims most of the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and rich fishing grounds, despite partial counter-claims by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Esperon said Duterte's position was that the Philippines also had "historical rights," and that it was also bolstered by an international tribunal ruling in July that there was no basis for China's claims to most of the South China Sea.

He said the two leaders decided to sidestep the issue to repair frayed ties.

"There is no talk on territorial rights, there is no talk on assertion of rights, but they respect our traditional rights," Esperon added.

Duterte's predecessor, then-president Benigno Aquino, had brought the case before the international tribunal which resulted in the resounding victory over China.

Aquino's strong opposition to China's territorial claims strained ties with Beijing.

However Duterte, who was elected in May, has said he will not press the territorial issue and instead seek more aid and investment from China.

"There is no resolution, so why allow yourselves to be in that confrontational position when you can talk about economic relations, trade relations?" said Esperon.

"It is win-win for both but this is not to say that we have dropped our claim."


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