China Keeps Open Scarborough Shoal to Philippines as a Favor

President Xi Jinping (right) meets his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte in Lima, Peru. Photo: Xinhua

President Xi Jinping (right) meets his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte in Lima, Peru. Photo: Xinhua

Filipinos unload after coming home to Subic from a fishing expedition in the disputed South China Sea. Photo: EPA

Filipinos unload after coming home to Subic from a fishing expedition in the disputed South China Sea. Photo: EPA

In its report “Xi tells Duterte that Scarborough Shoal will stay open to Philippine fishermen” yesterday, SCMP says Chinese “President Xi Jinping called on China and the Philippines to explore maritime cooperation” and promised that China’s Huangyan Island (also known as Scarborough Shoal) in the South China Sea will remain open to Philippine fishermen.

It’s the result of Obama’s pivot to Asia undesirable to the US and Philippines, but very good to China.

Before the pivot, both Chinese and Philippine coast guards patrolled the shoal and fishermen fished there as China, though much stronger than the Philippines, did not want to drive away the fishermen and coast guards of the Philippines, its friendly neighbor.

US pivot gave Duterte’s predecessor former Philippine President Aquino the illusion that with the help of the powerful navy of his ally the US, he could drive away Chinese coast guards and fishermen from the shoal and have exclusive possession of the shoal. He sent navy to round up Chinese fishermen there and thus gave rise to what the West regarded as a standoff between China and the Philippines there.

It was in fact not a standoff in its proper sense. It was in fact the operation of Chinese coast guards and navy to deny the Philippines access to the shoal and the sea around it. The Philippines only sent its coast guards to watch nearby without any action to drive away the Chinese to enable Philippine fishing boats to enter the area near the shoal.

Aquino asked the US for help, thinking that the mere appearance of powerful US navy will scare the Chinese away. However, instead of sending its navy to help him, the US told Aquino to withdraw and promised to have China retreat too. However, China would not retreat and continue to impose effective control of the shoal.

The US told Aquino to seek remedy from the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague where the US had influence. Aquino did get an arbitration ruling in his favor but the US could not help him enforce the ruling though it has sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to scare China.

For years, Aquino’s illusion about US help to scare away China caused Filipino fishermen’s misery. They were banned by China to fish in the area around the shoal and thus lost what they depended for their survival.

Aquino simply did not care, but his successor President Duterte cares. Duterte wants to help the fishermen to have access to their traditional fishing ground. Since the US cannot help him, it is natural that he seeks help from China. To please China, he insulted US president Obama. Western media ascribed Duterte’s rude behavior to his anger at US opposition of his killing of drug dealers and addicts. That is only the excuse exploited by Duterte to attack the US and please China.

Duterte had long been well-known for his killing of drug dealers and addicts before he was elected as president. He must have got used to US criticism about the killing; therefore, attacking the US to justify his killing was not his priority. As he has declared, his priority is to enable Filipino fishermen to have access to the area around the shoal for their survival.

In fact, it is enough for Duterte to put an end of Aquino’s enmity and recover Philippines’ friendship with China. There is no need for him to upset the US to please China. True, China has been developing its military to counter US threat, but that is purely for self defense as US military always makes plan to attack China. China wants good relations with the US as such relations are favorable to China.

Chinese leaders are not so stupid as to contend with the US for world leadership. China is not rich or strong enough for that.

US belief of its world leadership is but an illusion in spite of its largest economy and strongest military. No one in the world follows its leadership now. Duterte wants to separate from the US because what has happened related to Scarborough standoff and Hague arbitration ruling have made him realize that there is no US world leadership. The US boasts that it is world leader that protects other countries including the Philippines. In fact it protects only its own interests. It will not fight to protect others if its own interests have not been affected.

The disputes between China and other South China Sea claimants will perhaps remain forever, but as long as China pursues win-win cooperation, it will be able to manage the disputes satisfactorily. That will make the US unable to exploit the disputes to contain China.

Other claimants have to learn from the lessons of Philippines’ failure in exploiting US pivot to Asia to get exclusive control of Scarborough Shoal. In the end, the Philippines has, on the contrary, enabled China to have exclusive control of the shoal and act as the host of the shoal.

Unlike the situation before the standoff, Filipino fishermen have no free access to the shoal. They have access now due to Chinese president’s personal promise instead of any right based on agreement or ruling.

If a claimant wants to exploit the resources in disputed waters, it has to cooperate with China. Otherwise, China will exploit the resources alone and the US simply will not interfere. That is the reality now in the South China Sea.

Comments by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at


2 Comments on “China Keeps Open Scarborough Shoal to Philippines as a Favor”

  1. Simon says:

    Duterte apart from bad mouthing Obama had so far doen nothing to end its miltary ties with Washington. I think it is a mistake for China to grant fishing rights to Fillipino fishermen when the country did nothing so far to benefit China.


  2. Steve says:

    Look at those huge loads of fish, wonder if Duterte charges the Filipino fishermen taxes. Probably No tax for at least 12 months. Some of those fishes should be sold to China at a lower price out of good neighbourliness.

    Aquino is definitely not a good President. He is prepared to wage war in support of the US and to rewrite the maritime SCS rules after the PCA award, provided ASEAN supports the arbitration. Unfortunately, the Philippines has only 5 or 6 nations supporting the PCA arbitration and over 70 countries supported China against the award. Aquino should thank President Duterte’s political wisdom. Duterte cares for his people and to eradicate his country’s poverty. It is good to hear President Xi said that the Huangyan Island in the SCS will remain open to the Filipino fishermen, rather than using the words Scarborough Shoal.