MANILA Dec 2 China's coastguard has rescued
Filipino fishermen from a capsized boat near a disputed South
China Sea shoal, the Philippines said on Friday, underlining the
fast thawing of ties between two countries long at odds over
A Philippine coastguard vessel was navigating choppy waters
to collect the two fishermen from the Chinese ship, in what
would be the first time in four years both countries'
coastguards were in close proximity in the Scarborough Shoal, a
rocky outcrop at the heart of years of diplomatic tension.
"As we speak, the Chinese vessel is linking up with our own
ship to turn over the two Filipino fishermen," said Philippine
coastguard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo.
"It is taking some time because the waters in the area are
The rescue illustrates the rapid changes in the relationship
between the two countries under Philippine President Rodrigo
Duterte, who in only a few months has sought to turn a historic
foe into a friend. He visited Beijing in October and has met
twice with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, to whom he has expressed
The last time coastguards of the two countries were both at
the shoal was in June 2012, during a protracted face-off sparked
by Philippine attempts to arrest Chinese fishermen.
That led to the Philippines lodging a case with the
Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which infuriated
China and put its claims to most of the South China Sea in the
The Philippines won that case in July, with the arbitral
award voiding China's U-shaped line of sovereignty on its maps.
The ruling made clear the Scarborough Shoal was under the
jurisdiction of no country and claimants China, the Philippines
and Vietnam were entitled to exploit its plentiful fish stocks.
China was until recently overseeing a blockade of the shoal
some 124 miles off the Philippines coast, chasing away Filipino
fishermen and sometimes blasting them with water cannon.
Duterte has told Xi he will unilaterally turn the shoal into
a marine sanctuary, banning fishing within the lagoon and
restricting it to the peripherals. It is unclear whether Xi will
agree to that and how it would be enforced.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty)