China ves­sels leave Scar­bor­ough Shoal

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANILA:

Chi­nese ships are no longer at the dis­puted Scar­bor­ough Shoal in the South China Sea and Philip­pine boats can re­sume fish­ing, the Philip­pine de­fense minister said yes­ter­day, call­ing the Chi­nese de­par­ture a “wel­come de­vel­op­ment”. Philip­pine fish­er­men could ac­cess the shoal unim­peded for the first time in four years, De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana said, cap­ping off a star­tling turn­around in ties since his coun­try rat­tled China in 2013 by chal­leng­ing its mar­itime claims at an in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal.

The de­par­ture of the Chi­nese coast­guard comes af­ter Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s high-pro­file visit to Beijing and fol­lows his re­peated re­quests for China to end its block­ade of the shoal, a tran­quil la­goon rich in fish stocks. “Since three days ago there are no longer Chi­nese ships, coast­guard or navy, in the Scar­bor­ough area,” Loren­zana told reporters. “If the Chi­nese ships have left then it means our fish­er­men can re­sume fish­ing in the area.” Though the Scar­bor­ough Shoal is com­prised of only a few rocks pok­ing above the sea some 124 nau­ti­cal miles off the Philip­pine mainland, it is sym­bolic of the coun­try’s ef­forts to as­sert its mar­itime sovereignty claims.

Loren­zana did not ex­plain the cir­cum­stances of the Chi­nese ves­sels leav­ing the shoal, which was the cen­tre­piece of a case Manila filed in 2013 at the Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion in the Hague. Asked on Fri­day about the re­turn of Philip­pine fish­er­men to the shoal, China’s For­eign Min­istry spokesman Lu Kang made no men­tion of a coast­guard with­drawal. The two coun­tries “were able to work to­gether on is­sues re­gard­ing the South China Sea and ap­pro­pri­ately re­solve dis­putes,” Lu told a reg­u­lar brief­ing. The Hague court in July de­clared that de­spite the Scar­bor­ough Shoal be­ing lo­cated within the Philip­pines’ 200 nau­ti­cal mile ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone, no one coun­try had sov­er­eign rights to it, so that all claimants may fish there. —

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