Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to declare a lagoon in China-controlled waters to be a marine sanctuary where Filipinos and Chinese will be prohibited from fishing, officials said Monday.
China seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after a tense standoff with the Philippines. Duterte's plan is delicate because it may imply Philippine territorial control there. Chinese coast guard ships have closely guarded the shoal since then, and both governments have suspected the other of planning construction to cement their claims to the area.
If Duterte's plan proceeds, fishermen of any nationality would only be allowed in the deeper waters just outside Scarborough, but not its vast triangular-shaped lagoon naturally fenced by coral outcrops with an entryway watched by Chinese coast guard personnel.
Duterte relayed his marine sanctuary plan to Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on the sidelines of the just-concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Peru, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.
Xi did not say whether he agreed to Duterte's plan in the Scarborough Shoal, according to the statement from Esperon and other Philippine Cabinet officials present at the meeting.