Chinese ships still at disputed shoal but not stopping fishermen
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 spokesperson said yesterday.
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 spokesperson for President Rodrigo Duterte had said there were no longer signs of Chinese ships at the shoal, after Mr Duterte visited China to repair frayed ties.
However Defence Department spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said fishermen who visited the shoal still saw Chinese coastguard ships there.
“Filipino fishermen, who have been to 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 yesterday.
China took control of the 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.
In a case brought by then-president Benigno Aquino, the Philippines won a resounding victory over China at an international tribunal earlier this year.
However Mr Duterte played down this victory in a visit to China last week, putting territorial disputes on the back-burner and focusing instead on Chinese aid.