China allows Philippine fishermen access to shoal

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Beijing:┬áChina’s Foreign Ministry today confirmed a decision to allow Philippine fishermen access to a disputed shoal following a visit to Beijing by the Philippine president.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing made “proper arrangements” regarding Scarborough Shoal after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed concern about the matter.

China seized the shoal, located 228 kilometres from the northern Philippines, following a 2012 standoff between the sides, preventing Filipino fishermen from working in the area.

Chinese coast guard ships sometimes used water cannons to drive off Filipino fishermen while protecting Chinese boats.

However, fishermen said over the weekend that the Chinese coast guard had allowed them to again fish in the area following Duterte’s recent visit, which officials say resulted in a major improvement in bilateral ties.

The visit marked a “comprehensive improvement of China- Philippines relations. Given the circumstance, regarding the issue President Duterte was highly concerned about, China made proper arrangements on the issue based on the friendship between China and the Philippines,” Hua told reporters at a daily briefing.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a navy plane spotted at least four Chinese coast guard ships around the shoal during a surveillance flight on Saturday.

The fishermen’s return to Scarborough was “a most welcome development” because it brings back their key source of making a living, Lorenzana said yesterday.

No written agreements guaranteeing continued access have been issued, and Hua made it clear that China would continue to exercise administration over the area as Chinese territory.

Farther south, in the Spratly Islands, China has in recent years constructed islands by piling sand and concrete atop coral reefs, despite protests from other claimants and the US.

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