Scarborough Shoal standoff

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The Scarborough Shoal standoff refers to tensions between China (PRC) and the Philippines which began on April 8, 2012 over the Philippine Navy apprehension of eight mainland Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed Scarborough Shoal.[1]


Scarborough Shoal Landsat.jpg

The Scarborough Shoal is claimed by both China and the Philippines. Taiwan also claims the shoal as part of its territory. On April 8, 2012, a Philippine Navy surveillance plane spotted eight Chinese fishing vessels docked at the waters of Scarborough shoal. BRP Gregorio del Pilar was sent on the same day by the Philippine Navy to survey the vicinity of the shoal, and confirmed the presence of the fishing vessels and their ongoing activities. On April 10, 2012, BRP Gregorio del Pilar came to inspect the catch of the fishing vessels. The Filipino inspection team claimed that they discovered illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks inside the first vessel boarded by the team. BRP Gregorio del Pilar reported that they attempted to arrest the Chinese fishermen but were blocked by Chinese maritime surveillance ships, China Marine Surveillance 75 (Zhongguo Haijian 75) and China Marine Surveillance 84 (Zhongguo Haijian 84) . Since then, tensions have continued between the two countries.[1][2][3]

Reactions and related incidents[edit]

  • In the same year, U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance, together with the Vietnamese community in Florida also called for the boycott of Chinese goods.[5]

Cyber attack exchanges[edit]

Hackers suspected to be from China, defaced the website of the University of the Philippines on April 20. The hackers left a message claiming, “We come from China! Huangyan Island is Ours,”. On April 21 “Anonymous #Occupy Philippines” retaliated and attacked the China University Media Union website, defacing its homepage with an image of a Guy Fawkes mask. The hacker said, "Chinese government is clearly retarded. Scarborough Shoal is ours!”. The website of the University of the Philippines was back online at the same day. After the attacks, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said that it didn't appear that the attacks would have any negative effect on the talks by Manila and Beijing to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff, and urged both Filipinos and Chinese to refrain from escalating tensions.[6] Philippine websites of Official Gazette, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, and the Presidential Museum and Library were also defaced in April. On May 4, hackers defaced the websites of The Philippine Star newspaper.[7]

Philippine fruit exports to China[edit]

China has imposed stricter regulations on its import of Philippine bananas, as a shipload of bananas was rejected in May, allegedly due to its failure to pass quarantine tests. According to Philippine banana exporters, China's move was related to the standoff in the Scarborough shoal.[8][9] China also ordered stiffer inspections over Philippine pineapples and other fruits coming from the country.[10]

Suspension of tours to the Philippines[edit]

Most Chinese travel agencies suspended tours to the Philippines due to the standoff over the Scarborough shoal. Tourists from China makes about 9% of total arrivals to the Philippines according to the Philippine Department of Tourism.

The state-owned China Travel Service, Shanghai Tourism Bureau and suspended all tours to the Philippines indefinitely citing the anti-Chinese sentiment in the country and for the safety of Chinese nationals.[10][11]

May 11 Philippine protests[edit]

Filipinos organized a protest near the Chinese Consulate in Manila against China's policies in the Scarborough shoal on May 11. Nearly 1,000 people were expected to participate in the protest. Organizers of the protests also noted that other protests were planned in other Chinese diplomatic missions around the world.

China deployed police near the Philippine Embassy in Beijing but only about 200 protesters were reported. The protest in Beijing ended peacefully. The Chinese embassy in Manila advised Chinese nationals to stay off the streets.[12] Taiwan also released a similar advisory to its residents staying in the Philippines.[13][14]

May 11 Hong Kong protests[edit]

Hong Kong activists organized a protest on May 11, to reiterate China's claim over the Scarborough shoal near the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong. The protesters sent an open letter to the authorities claiming that the Scarborough shoal has been a Chinese territory since 1279 during the Yuan Dynasty. They also accuse the Philippines in inciting anti-China demonstration among FIlipinos and disrupting Chinese fishermen in the shoal.[15]

May 12 Beijing protests[edit]

Five protesters unfurled banners in front of the Philippine embassy in Beijing reading, "Huangyan Island will always belong to China" and "Keep your hands off Huangyan Island". The protest did not take long and the protesters were dispersed by the police by noon.[14]

Fishing ban[edit]

The Chinese government unilaterally imposed a fishing ban in the South China Sea, where the Scarborough shoal lies, lasting from May 16 to August 1. Since 1999, China has been imposing the annual summer fishing ban, which covers fishermen, regardless of nationality. Mono-layer gillnets, and hook and line fishing is not covered by the ban.[16]

The Philippines does not recognize the Chinese fishing ban but has imposed its own fishing ban. The Filipino fishing ban lasted from May 16 to July 15 and the Philippine Coast Guard will bar Filipino fishermen from the shoal. President Benigno Aquino III insisted that the ban was for the preservation of the marine resources. Fish aggregating devices were installed in the municipal waters of Santa Cruz, Candelaria, Masinloc, Palauig and Iba in Zambales, as well as in La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte to ensure the livelihoods of affected Filipino fishermen.[17][18] As of June 26, fishing vessels, together with paramilitary ships, are still in Scarborough shoal despite the Chinese fishing ban still effect.[19]

Faeldon's planned protest[edit]

Former Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon, planned to lead a group of fishermen to the Scarborough shoal as a protest to assert the Philippines' claim over the shoal. Faeldon also considered planting a Philippine flag on the shoal.[20] On May 18, President Aquino, called Faeldon to dissuade him from pushing through his trip. According to Faeldon, even though his plan push through, his group does not intend to plant a flag, as opposed to earlier reports, or to fish in the area.[21][22]

Continued Chinese presence[edit]

Under a 2012 deal mediated by the United States, China and the Philippines promised to withdraw their forces from the shoal until a deal over its ownership could be reached.[citation needed] The Philippines complied with the agreement and withdrew. China, however, did not abide the agreement and maintained its presence at the shoal, effectively militarizing it. Philippine president Benigno S. Aquino III later compared China's behavior to Nazi Germany's annexation of Czechoslovakia.[23]

By July 2012, China had erected a barrier to the entrance of the shoal, according to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.[24][25][26] Since then, vessels belonging to the China Marine Surveillance and Fisheries Law Enforcement Command have been observed in the nearby disputed shoal[27] and Chinese government vessels have been turning away Filipino vessels sailing to the area.[28] In response, the Philippines has stated that it would be preparing to resend vessels to the shoal, in what has been described as a "cold standoff".[29] By January 2014, China continued to maintain a presence within the shoal, among heightened tensions regarded a new law which requires non-Chinese fishing boats to seek permission from China when in the South China Sea, however Philippine fishing boats were able to fish around the shoal without Chinese interaction.[30]

The role of China's continued presence on the Shoals as a justification for the United States's recent "rebalance" to the region has provoked mixed opinions: an article in Foreign Policy identified increased Chinese patrols of the Shoals as a reason for why China's accusation that the US pivot was stoking tensions in the South China Sea was "patently false"[31] while Amitai Etzioni has writes of China's dispute over the Shoals as a reason for Washington's military buildup. [32]

International reaction[edit]

  •  Australia – Australia urged claimant nations to conform to international conventions and law for resolution. "We don't take a side on the various claims over the South China Sea. But we do, given our interest in the South China Sea, and given the fact that a large proportion of our trade travels through it, we do call on governments to clarify and pursue those claims and accompanying maritime rights in accordance with international law including the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention,"” Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said on May 12, who was in Shanghai to hold meetings primarily with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.[33]
  •  India – The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that, "Maintenance of peace and security in the region is of vital interest to the international community. India urges both countries to exercise restraint and resolve the issue diplomatically according to principles of international law."
  •  Pakistan – Pakistan Ambassador to China Masood Khan said in an ambassador's forum in the China Women's University said that "Pakistan is with China" on the Scarborough shoal incident.[35]
  •  Russia – Russian Ambassador to Manila, Nikolay Kudashev reiterated that Russia supports bilateral solution among claimant countries and opposed the involvement of other nations in the South China Sea disputes. Kudashev also noted that Russia is not a party to the Scarborough shoal dispute and that his country wants to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Kudashev also stated that,“The UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) would provide a good and solid basis.”[36]
  •  Taiwan – Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou hoped that the conflict will be solved "peaceful manner" but he also reiterate that Taiwan "will still continue to uphold sovereign claims over the South China Sea,”[37]
  •  United States - The United States on Tuesday, June 14 2011, threw its support to the Philippines amid the escalating tensions over the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. US Ambassador Harry Thomas said, "I want to assure you that on all sectors, we, the United States, are with the Philippines, ... The Philippines and the United States are strategic treaty allies. We are partners. We will continue to consult and work with each other on all issues, including the South China Sea," [39]
  •  Vietnam – Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said that Vietnam is "deeply concerned" over the Scarborough shoal incident. He stressed that "concerned parties need to practise restraint and peacefully resolve the disputes based on international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982 and the Declaration on Conduct of the Parties in the East Sea (DOC), to maintain peace, stability, security and maritime safety in the East Sea and region,"[40]

ITLOS involvement[edit]

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) is an intergovernmental organization created by the mandate of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, with responsibility for the regulation of seabed mining beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, and with the power to settle disputes between party states. In May 2012, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) leader Jorge Madlos said in a statement that, "Mindanao views the incursion of China in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in the Scarborough Shoal, as an infringement on the sovereign right and patrimony of the Filipino people. The Chinese government must immediately desist from taking injurious steps against the integrity of the Filipino people.", and urged both Chinese and Filipinos to pressure their respective governments in resolving the shoal dispute through diplomatic means before ITLOS.[41]

In June 2013 it was reported that the Philippines had decided to bring the territorial row before the ITLOS after it had “exhausted all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China.”, saying that it will ask the tribunal to declare China's claims as "invalid." China was reported to have formally rejected arbitration proceedings initiated by the Philippines. According to Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), however, China's refusal will not necessarily impede the proceedings.[42]

As of February 2014, the Philippines had not yet submitted a written pleading to ITLOS, and it was reported that China had offered mutual withdrawal from the shoal and other inducements if the Philippines would refrain from submitting a formal pleading, and that the Philippine position was, “With what's on the table, there's not enough.”[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Scarborough shoal standoff: A historical timeline | Inquirer Global Nation
  2. ^ PH, Chinese naval vessels in Scarborough Shoal standoff | Inquirer Global Nation
  3. ^ Scarborough Shoal standoff could lead to war: Duowei|Politics|News|
  4. ^ Albay gov renews call for boycott of China products | Inquirer Global Nation
  5. ^ Filipinos, Vietnamese in US close ranks: Boycott Chinese products | Inquirer Global Nation
  6. ^ Hackers bring PH-China dispute to cyberspace | Inquirer Global Nation
  7. ^ Suspected Chinese hackers deface Philippine Star website | Sun.Star
  8. ^ Banana exports to be hit by Scarborough dispute– industry insider | Inquirer Business
  9. ^ New weapon in Scarborough standoff: Bananas -
  10. ^ a b China travel agencies suspend trips to Philippines | Inquirer Global Nation
  11. ^ "China travel agencies suspend Philippine tours". BBC News. 10 May 2012. 
  12. ^ "Protest in Philippines over South China Sea stand-off". BBC News. 11 May 2012. 
  13. ^ Taiwanese in PHL urged to keep safe at anti-China protests in Manila | GMA News Online | The Go-To Site for Filipinos Everywhere
  14. ^ a b Protest over Huangyan Island dispute held in Beijing -
  15. ^ HK activists protest against Scarborough Shoal standoff - The China Post
  16. ^ China bans fishing in Scarborough Shoal, other parts of South China Sea, starting May 16 -
  17. ^ "Philippines and China to impose fishing bans amid standoff". The Daily Telegraph (London). 14 May 2012. 
  18. ^ BFAR declares fishing ban at Panatag Shoal - The Philippine Star » News » Headlines
  19. ^ Chinese fishing boats, paramilitary ships still staying at Scarborough Shoal
  20. ^ Ex-rebel soldier leads voyage to Scarborough Shoal | ABS-CBN News
  21. ^ China on high alert over Faeldon trip | Inquirer Global Nation
  22. ^ PNoy Stops Faeldon’s Scarborough Trip | The Manila Bulletin Newspaper Online
  23. ^ Bradsher, Keith, "Philippine Leader Sounds Alarm on China", New York Times, 4 February 2014
  24. ^ Michaela Del Callar (18 July 2012). "DFA: China boats blocking PHL vessels from Panatag Shoal". GMA News. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  25. ^ Jim Gomez (18 July 2012). "Indonesia scrambles to end ASEAN rift over sea". Associated Press. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  26. ^ Keating, Joshua (4 September 2012). "China has the Philippines on the ropes". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 16 September 2012. (subscription required)
  27. ^ Fat Reyes (27 July 2012). "3 Chinese government vessels spotted at Scarborough Shoal — DFA". Global Nation Inquirer. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  28. ^ "3 Chinese ships seen in Scarborough - PCG". ABS-CBN News (Manila, Philippines). 12 September 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2012. 
  29. ^ Tarra Quismundo (25 August 2012). "Navy ships ready to sail back to Scarborough Shoal". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved 16 September 2012. 
  30. ^ Romero, Alexis (26 January 2014). "Pinoy fishermen defy new Chinese fishing rules in Panatag Shoal". Philippine Star (Manila). Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  31. ^ Keck, Zachary (August 13, 2014). "Don’t Blame US Pivot for South China Sea Row". The Diplomat. 
  32. ^ Etzioni, Amitai, "Obama's 'Rebalancing': A Fig Leaf," The Diplomat, April 26, 2014, [1].
  33. ^ Australia urges UN Law of the Sea approach to South China Sea claims | GMA News Online | The Go-To Site for Filipinos Everywhere
  34. ^ Malaysia too wants peace in Panatag Shoal | Inquirer Global Nation
  35. ^ Ambassador: Pakistan supports China on Huangyan issue -
  36. ^ Russia Against Meddling | The Manila Bulletin Newspaper Online
  37. ^ Taiwan president hopes for peaceful end to shoal row - The Philippine Star » News » Headlines
  38. ^ [2] (Tagalog)
  39. ^ "Beijing Warns Against Sea Meddling". The Wall Street Journal. June 15, 2011. 
  40. ^ Scarborough Shoal dispute ‘of concern' - Politics & Laws - VietNam News
  41. ^ Resolve Scarborough Shoal dispute before international tribunal, NDFP tells China, PH
  42. ^ "Top maritime judge to hear PH case vs China". June 25, 2013. 
  43. ^ "China offers PH 'carrot' to quit case". February 26, 2014.