Muddled Waters in South China Sea

A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday that China’s position on Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea “has not changed and will not change,” reported Reuters. The statement came after officials from the Philippines said fishermen from their country had suddenly received increased access to fishing waters there over the weekend. For the past two years, China has made claims to Scarborough and a number of other disputed islands nearby and sought to limit access to adjacent waters for trade and fishing on that basis. In July, an international tribunal at The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a case it brought against the Chinese claims. For three months there had been no sign of Chinese acquiescence to the tribunal’s ruling. In recent weeks, however, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has announced a “separation” from the United States—a long-time ally of his country—and a strengthening of ties with China, including talks with Beijing focused on the disputed areas in the South China Sea. In addition to trade and fishing activities, control of the South China Sea is significant to the US and China for the projection of military power in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (See also: Mischief in the South China Sea.)