South China Sea: Beijing says ‘situation’ at disputed Scarborough Shoal ‘has not changed and will not’


The disputed territory is significant not only for fishing, but for the broader balance of power in the South China Sea, and the circumstances behind China’s apparent softening of its position are not clear.

Asked about Philippine fishermen entering the area unimpeded, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said China always had “normal administration” over the Scarborough Shoal.

“The relevant situation has not changed and will not change,” she said.
Ms Hua said Mr Duterte’s visit to Beijing marked an overall improvement in relations.

“China will make proper arrangements on issues of President Duterte’s interest,” Ms Hua said, without giving details.

China had repelled fishermen since seizing the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, but Philippine boats returned from the area at the weekend with tonnes of fish and said Chinese boats had left them alone.

Situation ‘unresolved’ but China ‘more friendly now’

China’s blockade of what is a prime fishing spot prompted the previous Philippine government to file a legal case in 2013 at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, infuriating Beijing.

The tribunal’s July ruling in favour of the Philippines, which China refuses to acknowledge, declared no one country had sovereign rights over the shoal, and as a traditional fishing ground, Chinese, Philippine, and Vietnamese were entitled to access it.