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Foreign Policy

Suit of Folly

Jul 24 , 2015
  • Ma Shikun

    Senior Journalist, the People’s Daily

On July 7, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague opened for the case of sovereign dispute over the South China’s Sea initiated by the Philippines. The Philippines submitted the dispute over Huangyan Island in the South China Sea to international arbitration in January 2013, and filed a 4,000-page plea in March 2014, delivering an old map to the court to “prove” that as early as 300 years ago the island had been part of the Philippine territory. To win the case, the Philippines hired an expensive team of international counsels led by Paul Reichler from the United States, an SJD from Harvard University who has much experience representing sovereign states in arbitration cases. The Philippines is intent on winning its claim on Huangyan Island through international arbitration so as to declare China’s dotted line invalid.

China has on many occasions articulated its position of not accepting or participating in the arbitration on the South China Sea disputes. Media outlets should assume the responsibility of helping people across the world, those in the United States included, learn about the historical and legal facts concerning the South China Sea in general and Huangyan Island in particular, and helping them make informed judgment based on the merit of the issue.

First, China is the first country to discover, name and develop Huangyan Island and has exercised continuous administration over it, meeting all the four standards for territorial claims under international law. China first discovered and named Huangyan Island and other maritime features in the South China Sea some 2,000 years ago. During the territorial inspection and measurement made by China’s Yuan Dynasty in 1279, Huangyan Island was one of the 27 measurement spots. Since ancient times, waters off Huangyan Island has been a Chinese fishing ground, and on the island there can be found wharfs built by Chinese fishermen and stone markers installed by Chinese science expedition teams. Maps published by generations of Chinese governments have marked the Huangyan Island as part of the Chinese territory, putting it under the jurisdiction of Guangdong or Hainan provinces. Even if it is true that the Philippine map is 300 years old, China’s sovereignty over the Huangyan Island traces back to more than a thousand years before the map was published.

Second, over the years, the Philippines has been colonized by Spain, the United States and Japan. The scope of its territory is therefore clearly defined by a series of international treaties. Relevant treaties like the Treaty of Paris between Spain and the United States in 1898, the Treaty of Washington between Spain and the United States in 1900 and the Anglo-American Treaty in 1930 all clearly defined that 118 degrees east longitude is the western limit of the Philippine territory, while Huangyan Island is located at 117.51 degrees east longitude. Treaties signed and decrees released afterwards all reiterated the legal effect of the above treaties. That is to say, the Philippines has never had anything to do with Huangyan Island.


Third, official maps of the Philippines have never included the Huangyan Island as part of the country’s territory. An official document issued by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority of the Philippines in October 1994 made it clear that “the territorial boundary and sovereignty of the Philippines were provided for in Article 3 of the Treaty of Paris between the US and Spain on 10 December 1898 with Huangyan Island outside the Philippine territory”. Before 1997, the Philippines had never challenged China’s sovereignty over Huangyan Island.

Fourth, some Philippine scholars have voiced impartial and objective views on the issue of Huangyan Island, as represented by Victor N. Arches II, a scholar who released an article entitled “It belongs to China”. According to his article, “The Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island) does belong to China, which discovered it and drew it in a map as early as 1279 during the Yuan Dynasty.” The old maps “being relied upon by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs in its spurious claim on the same territory were drawn up only in 1820, or 541 years after China’s”. Arches said the basis of the Philippine claim relies solely on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which cannot overrule or replace treaties and agreement signed or reached by colonies. He also said that even if the convention were considered a “law”, it cannot be made to take effect retroactively and change the established facts.

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