Duterte Hopeful China will Allow Filipino Fishermen in Disputed Scarborough Shoal
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed hope on Sunday that China will allow Filipino fishermen to access the disputed Scarborough Shoal in South China Sea in the next few days.
If Duterte's wish is fulfilled, this means that China's move of blocking the Filipino fisherfolks for fours years now will finally see how tit is ending.
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"Let us just wait for a few more days, maybe we could return to Scarborough Shoal," Duterte said in a speech in Tuguegarao City, located north of the capital city of Manila.
Duterte, on the other had, was equally cautious about Chinese commitment, adding that "I'm not sure if they will fulfill (what was discussed)."
The sensitive issue of Scarborough Shoal was reportedly discussed during Duterte's historic four-day visit to China last week.
Two Chinese sources told Reuters that China may consider giving Philippine fishermen conditional access to the disputed shoal. The decision was reportedly reached after the Presidents of both countries held an hour long meeting behind the close doors.
China captured the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and since then has denied Philippine fishermen access to its fishing territory.
Interestingly, Philippines included seizure of Scarborough Shoal in the case it filed in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2013. The arbitration court's verdict that was delivered earlier this year severely strained diplomatic ties between Beijing and Manila. The verdict had dismissed Beijing's historical claim over the disputed maritime territory.
Amid this, the Philippine President ignored festering tension following the verdict and chose to engage with China. His decision to mend ties with China apparently at the price of one time close ally US has surprised many.
Duterte's bold decision is seen as a bold attempt to change Philippines traditional foreign policy visa via China and US. Traditionally, Manila maintained cordial ties with US to receive diplomatic and military support for control China's aggression in disputed South China Sea.