FILIPINO fishermen may be able to return to the China-held Scarborough Shoal in a few days, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said, following his discussion on the territorial rift in the South China Sea with Chinese leaders during his trip to Beijing last week.
During discussions, Duterte said he insisted to his Chinese counterparts that the shoal off the Philippines’ northwestern coast belonged to his country. He noted, however that the Chinese also asserted their claim of ownership.
“Let us just wait for a few more days, maybe we could return to Scarborough Shoal,” he said during a speech in Manila on Saturday, as quoted by Reuters.
China, however, has yet to indicate whether it would lift its four-year blockade of the shoal, the agency reported.
“I’m not sure if they will fulfill (what was discussed),” Duterte said.
The president was addressing the matter during a speech Saturday in Tuguegarao City where he handed out aid to victims of Typhoon Haima.
He did not, however, offer further details on the discussions, including whether China imposed any conditions on the possible return of Filipino fishermen to Scarborough, where they have been driven away by Chinese coast guard ships for years.
Duterte was in Beijing last week to cement ties with China and forge a new commercial alliance amid his country’s deteriorating relationship with the United States, a long-time ally of the Philippines.
Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III had brought the maritime dispute to international arbitration after China seized the shoal in 2012.
In a July 12 ruling, the international arbitration court said China had no historical title over the South China Sea and that it had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights.
China has since said that it rejects the ruling, which ramps up pressure on the Asian powerhouse to scale back its military expansion in the area, and that it would continue to resolve the dispute with its neighbours.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press