'China may give access to Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal'

China's demand from the Philippines, if any, is not clear yet in exchange for the fishing concession.

Avoid fishing in disputed area, Philippines tells fishermen
Filipino fishermen in the disputed waters of the South China Sea Reuters

China will consider giving conditional access to Filipino fishermen in the dispuited waters of the South China Sea after President Duterte's visit in Beijing this week, media reports said citing two Chinese sources.

A Philippine official said President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Thursday and he plans to raise the plight of Filipino fishermen at the meeting.

China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and denied giving access to Filipino fishermen to its rich fishing grounds. The Scarborough Shoal was jointly claimed by Beijing, which calls it Huangyan island.

The Philippines took the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and in July 2016, the court rejected China's vast territorial claims in the South China Sea. The verdict also criticized Beijing's assertion of a 320km exclusive economic zone around the disputed Spratly Islands.

The ruling infuriated China and it immediately declared it "null and void". Beijing said it was time to arrange talks between the countries to resolve the territorial disputes directly and reach a peaceful resolution.

After arriving at his hotel in China, Duterte said he expects to achieve "plenty of happiness" for his country during this trip.

When Duterte was asked about the South China Sea dispute, he told Reuters: "No, that is not one of the topics on the agenda. It might crop up but it is going to be a soft landing for everyone. No impositions."

Reports say that Beijing is now considering making a concession to Duterte keeping track of the recent reversal in Philippines' foreign policy.

"Everybody can go, but there will be conditions," one of the Chinese sources said, referring to Chinese and Filipino fishermen, Reuters reported.

"The two countries would have to form working groups to iron out details," the source added when asked about the conditions.

However, it was not clear if China would agree to have joint coastguard patrols.

The sources have not revealed anything about China's demand from the Philippines, if any, in exchange for the fishing concession.

The second Chinese source referred to the administration of the former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and said "it will be a return to the Arroyo days".

The sources also added that if everything goes according to the script, both the countries would sign fishery cooperation during Duterte's visit. This cooperation would be one of more than 10 broad framework agreements that the two countries would agree upon.

Clear and consistent stand

In response to these reports, the Philippine Foreign Ministry said it had "no comment at this time".

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a press conference that "China's position on the South China Sea is clear and consistent. There is no change and there will be no change. This position accords with historical facts and international law."

Regarding Duterte's China visit, the foreign minister said: "This will be a historic visit and a new beginning in China-Philippines relations."

Last Friday, China's ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua said a "budding bilateral friendship could boost chances of removing one of their biggest bones of contention in the South China Sea".

However on Sunday, Duterte made it very clear that he would raise The Hague ruling at the meeting in China. He vowed not to surrender any sovereignty or deviate from the July ruling.

According to Philippine media, Antonio Carpio, Philippine Supreme Court senior associate justice, warned that the president could be criticized if he gives up the country's sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal.