The Scarborough shoal is a disputed territory in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. The shoal itself is disputed territory claimed by the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines and Taiwan. Although the territory is effectively controlled by China, their constant coast guard presence in the region has created conflict for the claimant countries. The conflict came to its boiling in April 2012, with the Philippine Navy’s apprehension of eight Chinese fishing vessels entering their territorial waters.
The 2016 Arbitration
The Philippines and People’s Republic of China entered in to arbitration in 2016 over disputed areas of the South China Sea. Brought about by the Philippines under annex VII to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea specifically regarding the legality of China’s “nine dotted line” claim. The tribunal concluded in July, stating that China had no historical rights based on the nine-dash line map to the Scarborough Shoal. Since, both China and Taiwan have rejected the claim.
What’s Duterte Doing?
Critics have been highly, well… critical of Duterte for a seeming failure to uphold an assertion to the 2016 arbitration which essentially ruled in the Philippines’ favor. Since the archipelago nation is surrounded by water, China has the option to essentially cut off all imports to and exports form the island.
Unlike his tough stance on his own people, Duterte seems to understand the dangers of all out war with China. He has implemented tentative fishing agreements and renewed talks for joint scientific explorations between the two nations. Some see these efforts as cowardly, while others applaud them as calculated and pragmatic.
Whichever is your opinion, Duterte’s actions (or lack thereof) helps the Philippines remain in China’s good graces with tremendous economic concessions for Manila in the meanwhile.