MANILA, Philippines – In moves that could ease the tension between the Philippines and China, both countries agreed to withdraw key vessels from the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday, June 5.
In a statement, the DFA said China has withdrawn two Chinese maritime vessels, and the Philippines has withdrawn its vessel from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources from the lagoon in Scarborough Shoal.
The two countries did this “following our consultations,” the DFA said. “We continue the consultations to address the remaining issues in Bajo de Masinloc.”
With the withdrawal, there are no more Philippine and Chinese government vessels inside the lagoon, said DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez in a text message to Rappler. He said 30 Chinese fishing vessels remain there, however.
Outside the lagoon, China has 8 government vessels while the Philippines has two, Hernandez added.
The Palace, for its part, welcomed these actions as an "easing of tensions."
"The fact that we are able to ease tension, the fact that the Chinese has decided to withdraw their maritime vessels is a step in the right direction. Our call has been to deescalate tension in the Panatag Shoal and we view this as a positive development," said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
Less than two weeks ago, the Philippines protested “clear violations” of its territorial claim over Bajo de Masinloc, the Philippines' official name for Scarborough Shoal. Up to 92 Chinese vessels then remained locked in a standoff with two Philippine vessels, which both came from the Philippine government.
China had 5 government vessels then.
The Scarborough Shoal dispute recently reached another breakthrough after the Commission on Appointments confirmed the posting of the Philippines' new ambassador to China, Sonia Brady.
Brady will fly to China to help mend the dispute that experts have described as diplomatic, not military, in nature.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.