Selecting bananas at a supermarket in Shandong province. (Photo/Xinhua)
A batch of bananas exported from the Philippines to China has been blocked by Chinese health officials amid the ongoing dispute over Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, reports the First Financial Daily in Shanghai.
China's General Administration of Quality, Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine asked its branch offices around the country on May 2 to tighten their inspection of fruit from the Philippines, saying pests had been found in some of them over the past year. The news comes as a standoff continues between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the area of Scarborough Shoal which began when Chinese fishing boats were apprehended in the area carrying illegal live cargo last month. An atoll lying off the northwest coast of the Philippines, Scarborough Shoal is claimed by both sides and known as Huangyan island in Chinese.
The chief of the Philippine Banana Plantation and Exporters Association has accused Beijing of rejecting the bananas because of its territorial dispute with Manila and is concerned that the standoff over the tiny group of uninhabited islands may develop into economic sanctions against Manila by Beijing. This could cut the Philippines off from the valuable Chinese market, which buys nearly half of the country's 75 million tons of banana exports every year.
Meanwhile, Tong Xiaoling, China's ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, denied that China was retaliating against Manila by blocking the bananas, saying the health authorities were carrying out their duties in line with international practice.
Yet Tong said that if Manila insisted on having its way in the dispute, it would definitely impact bilateral trade.
Two-way trade between China and the Philippines was worth US$30 billion in 2011, making China the third-largest trade partner of the Philippines and the Philippines China's sixth-largest trade partner among ASEAN member countries.
The Philippines is also eager to solicit Chinese money, now that developed countries are mired in economic problems and have cut their overseas investment projects, according to Chen Qinghong, a researcher at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
To stress its territorial claim to Scarborough Shoal, China has dispatched 33 ships into the waters around the atoll. China's deputy foreign minister, Fu Ying summoned the Philippine charge d'affaires for the third time on May 8, warning him that Beijing was ready to face any scenario that emerged from the dispute.
A commentary from the Communist Party's People's Daily said the same day that China has sufficient wisdom and alternate courses of action to force Manila to back down in the dispute without having to resort to force.