China and the Philippines have said they will impose simultaneous temporary fishing bans in parts of the South China Sea. It is a way to diffuse their maritime stand-off near the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island to China). While neither side recognizes the legitimacy of the other’s fishing ban in the waters they claim as its own, the arrangement allows both sides to withdraw their coast guard cutters on the grounds that there is no fisheries protection to be done.
Both sides say the fishing bans are for fisheries management reasons and have no connection to the naval stand-off that started more than a month back when a Philippines warship tried to detain a dozen Chinese fishing vessels operating in the disputed waters. While it is true that China has instituted a summer fishing ban every year since 1999–this year’s was first announced in January–the arrangement indicates that neither Beijing nor Manila want the increasingly tense dispute to get out of hand.
That is not to say that it will go away, or that the various parts of the Chinese government won’t stop blowing hot or cold on the issue. For the past three years Vietnamese fishermen have defied the ban, which also covers the fishing grounds near the Spratly Islands over which both China and Vietnam claim sovereignty. That prompted Chinese coast guards to detain the Vietnamese boats. China has again said it will impound the vessels and tackle of violators throughout the waters where it has suspended fishing. That provides China’s coast guard with an excuse to continue its patrols through waters variously claimed by not just by itself, Vietnam and the Philippines but also Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Updates: Vietnam has rejected China’s imposition of a seasonal fishing ban in the South China Sea. Beijing and Tokyo are holding a first round of talks on their maritime dispute in the East China Sea. China is putting 4,000 islands to which it lays claim under real-time 3-D ariel surveillance, including 45 islands described as being “along baseline points of China’s territorial waters”. Meanwhile, North Korea has seized three Chinese trawlers in the Yellow Sea, apparently for ransom.