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Chinese Vessels No Longer in Disputed Shoal – Philippines' Defense Chief

Sputnik News

00:49 29.10.2016(updated 00:50 29.10.2016)

Philippines' Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Friday that Chinese coast guard ships have left the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

Filipino fishermen are back in the area of the shoal, territory that is claimed by Manila as Panatag, and can return to the traditional way of making their living, four years after China seized control of the region.

"Since three days ago there are no longer Chinese ships, coast guard or navy in the Scarborough area," Lorenzana told reporters, referring to the departure of the vessels as a "welcome development."

He added, however, that the report required verification and that the Philippine air force was preparing to conduct aerial surveillance of the shoal on Saturday.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been shifting the country's diplomatic attention to China from the US, earlier hinted that Philippine boats could soon resume fishing in the area without hindrance.

The move by China follows Duterte's visit to Beijing one week ago, aimed at mending damaged ties between the two states. According to China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, the countries managed to "work together on issues regarding the South China Sea and appropriately resolve disputes."

Philippine presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella confirmed that it had been observed that there were no longer Chinese ships in the area, without providing further details on the circumstances behind China's decision to end its blockade of the shoal.

Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, warned that the development of the situation would largely depend on the countries' further rhetoric.

The deal "might prove impossible to reach if Beijing insists on language suggesting it is 'permitting' or 'allowing' the Philippines access," he explained, cited by Reuters.

Scarborough Shoal was the centerpiece of a claim Manila submitted before The Hague arbitration court, at the behest of the United States. In the court's decision, China's longstanding claim to the waters was invalidated.

Some 40 percent of the world's shipborne trade transits through the region, and the surrounding territories serve a crucial strategic importance for Beijing. China immediately denounced the ruling, denying the legitimacy of the court.


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