Treat Filipinos as brothers, Duterte tells Beijing

Philippine President Duterte greeting Chinese Ambassador Zhao during an event to mark National Heroes Day in Manila yesterday.
Philippine President Duterte greeting Chinese Ambassador Zhao during an event to mark National Heroes Day in Manila yesterday. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

He calls for allowing Filipinos to fish near Scarborough Shoal; Chinese envoy says 'we can discuss the possibility'

President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday again pleaded with China to allow Filipinos to fish near Scarborough Shoal, a disputed atoll in the South China Sea about 220km west of the main Philippine island of Luzon.

"I hope the Chinese… treat us as... brothers, not enemies, and take note of our plight… especially our fishermen. They are there because they are poor," Mr Duterte said in a speech during ceremonies to mark National Heroes Day.

China seized control of Scarborough Shoal - named after an East India Company tea clipper that ran aground there in 1784 - following a two-month stand-off with the Philippines in 2012. The stand-off was triggered after a Philippine Navy frigate seized eight Chinese fishing boats suspected of poaching coral and giant clams around the shoal.

The United States eventually mediated a deal. Both sides were supposed to withdraw from Scarborough. The Philippines pulled out its ships, but China stayed, and later sealed off the entire atoll.

Since then, Chinese coast guard ships have been chasing fishermen from the Philippines away from Scarborough, often using water cannons, blow horns and helicopters.

On July 12, an international arbitration tribunal at The Hague ruled that fishermen from the Philippines had traditional fishing rights at Scarborough. China was interfering with those rights by restricting access to the shoal, it said. The tribunal also dismissed China's historical claims to nearly all of the 3.5 million sq km South China Sea.

Mr Duterte, in his speech yesterday, said he would not bring up this ruling when he attends an Asean summit in Laos next week , beginning on Sept 6.

 

"I will never bring the matter because it may lead to the suspension of the talks in China, and that is not good… So, I propose that we just have a soft landing everywhere," he said.

But he also said the ruling would eventually have to figure in discussions with Beijing.

Addressing China's envoy to Manila, Mr Zhao Jianhua, who was in the audience, he said: "I will not use the judgment… now, but I would, one day, sit down in front of your representative or you, and then I will lay bare my position."

Mr Duterte added that he could not ignore the ruling or, as he put it: "I cannot get out of the four corners of this document."

Mr Zhao later told reporters: "We can discuss the possibility (of allowing Filipinos to fish around Scarborough)."

"We do look forward to talk to the Philippines bilaterally. But right now, we need to change our focus from differences to common interests, so we can concentrate on cooperation that will benefit our people," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Treat Filipinos as brothers, Duterte tells Beijing'. Print Edition | Subscribe