Tensions related to the South China Sea dispute fail to die down despite visible peace-keeping measures.
On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte declared his plan to develop the disputed Scarborough Shoal into a marine sanctuary and ordered it to be marked as a no-fishing zone. The announcement comes just hours after President Duerte met Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima. Chinese officials were unavailable for any comments on the latest development.
The Scarborough Shoal dispute: The background story
The Scarborough Shoal is a contentious maritime disputed area claimed by both China and the Philippines. Tensions erupted between the two countries in April 2012 when the Philippine Navy detained 8 Chinese vessels for illegally entering into the lagoon. The Chinese Coast Guard haven’t been kind either.
South China Sea is very important for Beijing as it continues to fill sands onto the reefs and lagoons. Its purpose is to establish strategic naval and air ports in the region to counter US, Vietnam and the Philippines. For more than two years now, the environmentalists have been furious over the pace at which Chinese are destroying the scattered reefs in the South China Sea.
With the Philippines staking ownership on the territory, the Scarborough Shoal might get worse. The Permanent Court of Arbitration granted sole sovereign rights of the disputed areas to the Philippines. It has been declared as the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The Spartly Islands is also a burning South China Sea dispute between the US and China.
Why Rodrigo Duterte wants the Scarborough Shoal to be declared as a marine sanctuary?
Turning the Scarborough Shoal into a marine sanctuary fulfills two purposes. Firstly, it will prevent the Chinese fishermen and naval ships from entering into the territory. Secondly, it will secure the ecosystem from further damage.
The Scarborough Shoal is known as Huan-gyan Island in Chinese. Philippines call it Panatag shoal. Culturally, the reef holds immense value for the fishermen from both countries. In recent times, the Philippine fishermen have faced aggression from Chinese Coast Guard. However, things have improved since the Presidents of the two nations met in Beijing in October.
What happens when the Scarborough Shoal is turned into a marine sanctuary?
The South China Sea is one of the most prolific fisheries in the world as it is home to over 550 different types of reef corals and as many marine fishes. The area has received very little scientific and conservation attention from the world due to Chinese dominance. It is friendlier than ever before. However, the South China Sea dispute remains unresolved.
Once the Scarborough Shoal is declared no-fishing zone, it will be a great victory for the environmentalists and ecologists. It could well become the marine education hub in years to come.
Image courtesy: vicmillon/ Pixabay