MANILA • By letting Philippine fishermen return to the disputed Scarborough Shoal, China is complying with an international arbitral ruling, just without acknowledging it, Manila's incoming ambassador to Beijing said yesterday.
Mr Jose Santiago Santa Romana, an academic and political appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte, said Beijing's end to its blockade of the South China Sea shoal meant that it was essentially following the July ruling by the tribunal in The Hague - which China refuses to recognise.
Philippine fishermen say that since Mr Duterte returned from his high-profile visit to repair ties with China last month, the Chinese coast guard has largely left them alone.
"China is now complying with the arbitration court's ruling, that's what our American lawyer is saying," Mr Santa Romana told Philippine businessmen at a forum, referring to Mr Paul Reichler, the chief legal counsel for the Philippines in the case it lodged in 2013.
"China has insisted sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal, but promised to do something about our fishermen when the president raised the issue."
The remarks by Mr Santa Romana, a scholar who specialises in China, may not be to Beijing's liking, given its disdain for the tribunal. It has bristled at calls by Western nations to comply with the ruling by the international tribunal, which it called a "law-abusing tribunal", a "farce" and a "puppet" of external forces.
The tribunal ruled in favour of the Philippines in numerous areas, saying China's "nine-dash line" denoting its maritime sovereignty claims has no basis. It also declared the Scarborough Shoal a traditional fishing ground that all claimants were entitled to exploit.
The ambassador-designate said the shoal had been discussed at length when he joined a team led by former Philippine president Fidel Ramos to meet "old friends" in Hong Kong in August with a view to breaking the ice with China.