China has scaled down its presence at a disputed South China Sea shoal but has not interfered with Filipino fishermen, the Philippine president’s security adviser said on October 30, after the administration had said China had withdrawn completely. Hermogenes Esperon said Chinese ships were still present but had not blocked Filipino boats at the Scarborough shoal, a rocky outcrop central to an international arbitration case, since President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Beijing two weeks ago. The situation at sea remains unclear, however, as do the circumstances behind an apparent softening of China’s position regarding an area significant not only for fishing, but for the broader balance of power in the South China Sea. China had repelled fishermen since seizing the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, but Filipino boats returned from the area at the weekend with tonnes of fish, broadcaster GMA reported, showing images of smiling crew and a large catch. Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had on October 28 declared Chinese vessels were no longer there and fishing could resume. Duterte’s spokesman also made similar comments.