China and the Philippines are discussing a joint fishing agreement they hope will ease a longtime sea territory dispute.
Philippine media said that the talks began after Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met in April.
Fabrizio Bozzato is with the Taiwan Strategy Research Association in Taipei. He said if the agreement is reached, signed and put into effect, it would represent "a significant step forward in the relations between the two countries."
“Sharing resources is not a light matter, light issue.”
The Philippine government has often disputed China’s use of the South China Sea within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. This includes movement of Chinese fishing, coast guard and navy ships.
But in 2016, the countries’ two leaders met to build a stronger relationship. China agreed to invest $24 billion in development aid to the Philippines. The relationship-building effort has eased tensions over their South China Sea dispute.
Dispute behind them?
China uses historical maps to claim about 90 percent of the sea. However, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim control of parts of that 90 percent.
Between 2012 and 2016 tensions rose between the Philippines and China over the fishing-rich area of the Scarborough Shoal. Over time, the more powerful China took control.
Duterte visited China in October of 2016 to negotiate a solution. Soon after, China's Xinhua News Agency reported that Xi had called for "stronger bilateral cooperation in fisheries” and other areas.
However, experts say there are limits to what kind of deal is possible.
Jay Batongbacal, a professor at the University of the Philippines. He said the Philippines faces legal limits in making agreements. Antonio Contreras a political scientist at De La Salle University in the Philippines, agrees.
"If it is within our EEZ, it should not be a fishing agreement, it should be a fishing permit. It's not an agreement between equals, but it's more like I'm giving you permission to fish under my terms.'"
An official agreement might clearly identify where each country could fish, including rights of entry in disputed waters to both. But Batongbacal said tensions could rise again at any point without such agreement.
The Philippines signed a fisheries-related law enforcement agreement with Taiwan in 2015. Vietnam and Malaysia were working on a fishery deal last year.
Message to other countries
In 2016 the World Court ruled in favor of the Philippines over South China Sea territorial claims. China rejected the ruling, but has since sought peace with other claimants through agreements and economic aid.
A deal with the Philippines would mean China "gets access to resources, they can send their people there and they look good nationally and regionally," Bozzato said.
Risk of a bad deal?
As many as 1.6 million ships from several countries fish the South China Sea, says researchers at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
I’m Phil Dierking.
Ralph Jennings wrote this story for VOANews.com Phil Dierking adapted their story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
bilateral - adj. involving two groups or countries
exclusive - adj. not shared
zone - n. an area that is different from other areas in a particular way
region - n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way