There’s a notion that just because it’s called South China Sea, the body of water does belong to China. The logic may be silly, as silly as it is for India to claim the Indian Ocean, or for Mexico to annex the Gulf of Mexico.
But for many people in China, it isn’t quite silly—especially in view of the logic why the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the international waters is called the West Philippine Sea.
And such logic that China has historic rights to the South China Sea just because it is named so, was part of the wide-ranging rhetorical firepower extensively used to advance China’s maritime interests in the wake of the international arbitral ruling declaring the so-called “nine-dash line” has no legal basis.
In the days before and after the ruling, China’s propaganda blitz reached fever pitch as Chinese officials and state media outlets unleashed a relentless stream of fiery rhetoric in a seemingly reckless fashion, apparently to extricate itself from a tight corner without losing face especially in the eyes of its own people.
But while it may be alright to give China rhetorical space for it to back off from the ledge it has gotten onto, Philippine officials especially President Duterte ought to be very careful in their utterances. Such could be used against our country, knowing the extent China will exploit anything in their favor to pursue their interests.
Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio has pointed out some utterances needing correction. They were supposedly made by President Duterte in a media forum during the recent state visit to China. Following are excerpts of Carpio’s statement that saw print in the column of my friend, Jarius Bondoc, in the Philippine Star:
“President Duterte is quoted in the Channel News Asia’s article, “Philippines’ Duterte Praises China on Beijing Visit,” posted in its website on 19 October 2016. The statements of President Duterte as quoted in the article must be corrected to avoid serious damage to the Philippines.
“In referring to China’s relation with the Philippines, President Duterte is quoted in the article as saying: ‘It (China) has never invaded a piece of my country all these generations.’ This is incorrect. In 2012 China physically seized and in effect invaded Scarborough Shoal, which is defined as Philippine Territory under Republic Act No. 9522 [which] states that the Philippines has ‘sovereignty and jurisdiction’ over Scarborough Shoal. In 1995 China [also] seized from the Philippines Mischief Reef, which is part of the submerged continental shelf of the Philippines as affirmed by the Tribunal’s Final Award of July 12, 2016.
“All ancient maps of the Chinese dynasties show Hainan Island as the southernmost territory of China. There is no ancient Chinese map showing Scarborough Shoal or the Spratlys as part of Chinese territory. Ancient maps of the Philippines show that Scarborough Shoal has been Philippine territory since 1636, and the Spratlys were part of the Philippines since at least 1690. On 29 September 1932, China officially declared to the world, in a Note Verbale to France, that China’s southernmost territory were the Paracels, moving a little further south its southernmost border. Even then, it meant that Chinese territory never included Scarborough Shoal or the Spratlys.
“Regarding the Tribunal’s Final Award, President Duterte is quoted in the article as saying: ‘The arbitral award gives us the right; China has the historical right.’ That is incorrect. The UNCLOS Tribunal at The Hague concluded: ‘The Tribunal sees no evidence that, prior to the Convention, China ever established a historic right to the exclusive use of the living and nonliving resources of the waters of the South China Sea, whatever use it may historically have made of the Spratlys Islands themselves.’
“The Tribunal explained that China’s uses in the past of the South China Sea beyond its territorial seas, through fishing by Chinese fishermen and sailing by its merchant ships and navy, were uses of high seas freedom, just like the uses of the South China Sea by other states. The South China Sea was never exclusively used by China, in the past or now.
“These statements by President Duterte must be corrected lest China claim, quoting him, that Scarborough Shoal is not Philippine territory and that the Philippines recognizes China’s historic rights to the South China Sea, a claim the Philippine government already successfully refuted as false before the Hague Tribunal. Under international law, unilateral statements of a head of state can bind the state and can be taken against such state in an arbitration between such state and another disputant state; thus the need for the government to issue immediately a correction, lest these statements of President Duterte bind the Philippines.”