FOLLOWING the Philippines’ efforts to mend ties with China, a Chinese academic and government adviser has disclosed that Filipino fishermen could soon be granted full access to the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal).
Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said Beijing was considering a “wholesale” deal with the Philippines involving fishing rights in the shoal’s waters.
This was said to have been part of the outcome of the October state visit of President Rodrigo Duterte to Beijing that ended a squabble between the two South China Sea claimants.
“A wholesale bilateral fishing industry deal is still being discussed, an agreement has not yet been reached,” Wu was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.
The reported deal comes despite a July ruling from a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal that upheld Filipinos’ right to the resource-rich traditional fishing ground.
Located 124 nautical miles northwest of Luzon, Panatag is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Duterte has vowed not to insist on the court award, and is even planning to unilaterally declare Panatag a marine sanctuary to ban fishing inside its lagoon.
The President’s groundbreaking trip to Beijing resulted in China allowing Filipino fishermen back in the waters around Panatag. Beijing seized the shoal, which it calls Huangyan Dao, from Manila during a 2012 standoff.
However, China’s coast guards have remained there and Filipinos are not allowed to fish inside the lagoon.
Reuters also quoted Zhu Feng, director of the South China Sea Center at Nanjing University, as saying there had been “fundamental change” since Duterte took office.
The success of the “Scarborough Shoal push” will indicate that territorial disputes can be resolved through diplomatic talks, he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing would make “proper arrangements for fishing activities by the Philippine fishermen in waters near Huangyan Dao in the interests of bilateral friendship.”
“We have seen a turnaround of China-Philippines relations marked by the successful visit by Philippine President Duterte. The two sides have reached consensus on coming back to the track of dialogue and consultation for the settlement of the South China Sea issue,” he said during a news briefing in Beijing.
China however maintains sovereignty and jurisdiction over Panatag, he said.
Pham Lan Dung, director of the Foreign Service Training Center at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, warned that any fishing arrangement at Panatag must include other nationals who exercise traditional rights to fish there.
“It is recognized that both the Philippines and China and other countries have traditional fishing rights in the Scarborough and these traditional fishing rights have to be respected by other parties, so if any party enforces actions that are not in conformity with the Unclos, then it would be in violation of international law,” she said.