MANILA – The United States hopes that China's move to open up disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea to local fishermen is not a temporary measure.
In a press briefing in Washington on Friday (Saturday morning Philippine time), US State spokesperson Mark Toner said that they are aware of and are "still assessing" the situation in Scarborough Shoal.
"We'd like it to be a sign that China and the Philippines are moving towards an agreement on fishing access…that would be in accordance with the July 12th arbitral decision," he said.
On Friday, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that there have been "some physical observations…that there are no longer any Chinese coast guards" in Scarborough Shoal, which is located within the Philippines' 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. This was confirmed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
While Abella did not say if this was definitely due to an agreement with China on fishing rights in the area, Abella said, "All we know is based on results, the fishermen can now go into those waters."
On Tuesday, Kabayan party-list Representative Harry Roque said that the understanding between the two countries would mean the withdrawal of Chinese ships from the shoal.
"My understanding is there is already a modus vivendi, there is already an agreement that we can fish. What has kept us from signing anything in writing is apparently the problem with words to be used," he said.
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte returned from China with about $24 billion in investment pledges.
Despite Duterte's controversial statements regarding the US and China, government officials have repeatedly denied the country is cutting ties with its longtime ally, as it has "no reason" to do so.