Philippines receives first Japanese coast guard vessel
Chinese coastguard ship on South China Sea Reuters

The Philippines said on Friday that Chinese coastguard rescued Filipino fishermen from a capsized boat near the disputed Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea. This rescue move by China underlines the rapid changes in the relationship between the two nations over sovereignty.

According to reports, a Philippine coastguard vessel was navigating in the contested waters to rescue the two fishermen from the Chinese ship. In four years, this was the first time when both the countries' coastguards were in close proximity in the Scarborough Shoal.

"As we speak, the Chinese vessel is linking up with our own ship to turn over the two Filipino fishermen," Commander Armand Balilo, Philippine coastguard spokesman told Reuters. "It is taking some time because the waters in the area are very rough," the spokesman added.

In June 2012, the coastguards of both the countries were seen at the shoal for the last time during a long face-off that was sparked by Philippine attempts to arrest Chinese fishermen.

Soon after the incident, the Philippines lodged a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and in July the tribunal rejected China's vast territorial claims, giving a verdict in favour of the Philippines. This infuriated Beijing and it reaffirmed its claim to the whole of South China Sea.

The court made it very clear that the Scarborough Shoal was under the jurisdiction of no country and all claimants, including China, the Philippines and Vietnam were entitled to exploit its plentiful fish stocks.

A few months ago, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and sought to turn a historic foe into a friend. He expressed his admiration towards the leader and tried to bring some changes in ties between both the countries.

Duterte told Xi that he will unilaterally turn the shoal into a marine sanctuary and ban fishing within the lagoon and restrict it to the peripherals. However, it is not yet clear whether Xi will agree to that and how it would be finally enforced.