1.11.16

Chinese Ships No Longer Interfering with Filipino Fishing Boats at Scarborough Shoal

In a sign of thawing relations between Manila and Beijing, Filipino fishing vessels are working the seas around the contested shoal unmolested by Chinese naval and coast guard vessels. Local reports state that Chinese presence has gone from nine naval and coast guard vessels to as few as three. Prior to a recent visit by President Duterte to China in October, the shoal had been off limits to Filipino fishermen while the two countries argued over ownership rights.
The Cipher Take: While this is a win for the fishermen whose livelihoods depend on renewed access to the shoal, and also for Duterte who will gain a boost in popularity for this positive development, there could be consequences downstream. First, it is too early to say how long this situation will last and what the conditions are for its continuation. Second, this could undermine an important precedent in international maritime law - Manila took Beijing to international court in large part over Scarborough Shoal and scored a landmark victory in July. Duterte’s decision to solve the dispute outside of the court could leave other countries wondering why they should defend the ruling and the Filipino claim. With precedent being so important to establishing international law, this could dilute the future impact of the case.

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