May 14, 2012

This Weekend’s News: A Row over Fish Heightens Tensions in the South China Sea

The Philippines announced on Sunday (Monday in Manila) that it will ignore China’s fishing ban near the disputed Scarborough Shoal that is set to begin on May 16 and run through August 1. “DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] Secretary Albert del Rosario explained the Philippines will not follow the ban because it has sovereign rights over a portion of the waters where China plans to impose the ban,” according to “However, del Rosario said the Philippines may also impose a similar ban given the depletion of marine resources in its territorial waters.”

China’s announced fishing ban comes as Filipino and Chinese vessels remain in a standoff near the Scarborough Shoal, approximately 120-natutical miles off the Philippine island Luzon. “The stand-off erupted last month after Philippine authorities detected Chinese ships fishing near the Scarborough Shoal,” the Bangkok Post reported. “The two nations have stationed non-military vessels at the shoal since April 8 in an effort to assert their sovereignty over the area.” The standoff has elicited emotional protests in Manila as well as in Beijing.  

Although the Philippines announced it would not abide by China’s fishing ban, Manila expressed a desire to find a peaceful resolution to the ongoing dispute, according to reports. “Despite the pronouncement of resistance against the ban, DFA spokesperson Raul Fernandez said the Philippines is still willing to hold diplomatic talks with the Chinese government to settle the dispute, which has been running for over a month.” Moreover, according to one expert writing in the Asia Times Online, “Even as the rhetoric escalates, moves are being made for economic integration and mutual-benefit.”

Nevertheless, U.S. policymakers charged with managing tensions in the region will remain watchful of developments as they unfold. The recent spat between China and the Philippines also comes on the heels of China’s announcement last week of a technological breakthrough in deep-sea drilling, which may help put China in a position to exploit deep-sea hydrocarbons in contested areas of the South China Sea.