Xi tells Duterte that Scarborough Shoal will stay open to Philippine fishermen

Statement on disputed area comes as leaders meet on sidelines of the APEC conference in Lima, Peru

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 11:33pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 11:47pm

President Xi Jinping called on China and the Philippines to explore maritime cooperation and promised that Philippine fishermen will continue to have access to the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

In a meeting with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima, Peru on Saturday, Xi said the sea should be turned into a symbol of cooperation.

The Philippine Presidential Communications Office said in a statement after the talks that the two leaders had discussed the plight of the country’s fishermen.

“The Chinese leader [vowed] that the fishermen will continue to have free access to their traditional fishing grounds, apart from offering them training such as in fish culture to sustain their livelihood and families,” the statement said.

Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying the two nations should move their relations in the right direction and commit to friendly cooperation, proper management of their differences and common development.

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He said China and the Philippines were faced with a new situation. Xi called on both sides to boost exchanges at all levels, discuss major issues of common concern in a timely manner and restore bilateral mechanisms in various fields, in order to enhance mutual trust and cooperation.

China in early 2012 seized control of the Scarborough Shoal and deployed navy and coastguard vessels to prevent Philippine fishermen from working in the rich fishing grounds nearby.

However, following Duterte’s state visit to China last month, the Chinese coastguard vessels left the vicinity, allowing the fishermen to return.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on July 12 ruled that China, which claims virtually the entire South China Sea, had “violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone”.

In a separate meeting with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, Xi called on Beijing and Hanoi to set aside their differences and seek joint exploration in the South China Sea, and to resolve any disputes properly.

Additional reporting by Kyodo