PANABO, Philippines — Dazzled by the opportunities offered by China’s vast and increasingly prosperous populace, Renante Flores Bangoy, the owner of a small banana plantation here in the southern Philippines, decided three years ago to stop selling to multinational fruit corporations and stake his future on Chinese appetites. Through a local exporter, he started shipping all his fruit to China.
Today, his estate on the tropical island of Mindanao is scattered with heaps of rotting bananas. For seven weeks now — ever since an aging U.S.-supplied Philippine warship squared off with Chinese vessels near a disputed shoal in the South China Sea — Bangoy has not been able to sell a single banana to China.
He is a victim of sudden Chinese restrictions on banana imports from the Philippines that China says have been imposed for health reasons but that Bangoy and other growers view as retaliation for a recent flare-up in contested waters around Scarborough Shoal.
“They just stopped buying,” Bangoy said. “It is a big disaster.”
His plight points to the volatile nationalist passions that lie just beneath the placid surface of Asia’s economic boom. It also underscores how quickly quarrels rooted in the distant past can disrupt the promise of a new era of shared prosperity and peace between rising China and its neighbors.
Scarborough Shoal, a cluster of coral reefs and islets, lies more than 500 miles from the Chinese mainland and 140 miles off the northern coast of the Philippines, well within a 200-nautical-mile “exclusive economic zone” provided for by the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. But China — which claims most of the South China Sea, including portions also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan — insists that the shoal has been part of its territory