Global Times: Ironclad historical evidence reveals Philippines' claim over Huangyan Dao a groundless farce

2024-02-27 Global Times: Ironclad historical evidence reveals Philippines'

Over the last two weeks, while the Chinese people were celebrating the Spring Festival holidays, several Philippine vessels illegally intruded into the waters adjacent to China's Huangyan Dao, also known as Huangyan Island. Despite repeated warnings from the China Coast Guard (CCG), the Philippine vessel persisted in its activity. The CCG had to implement measures to control the vessel's navigation and compel it to leave the area in accordance with the law. 

Since the 1990s, Chinese fishermen fishing in the waters near Huangyan Dao have frequently been harassed by the Philippine military. After the Marcos administration came to power in 2022, incidents of Philippine vessels intruding into the waters near Chinese islands and reefs have increased in frequency. 

China was the first country in history to start and continue to manage South China Sea islands and engage in related maritime activities. Successive Chinese governments in all dynasties have continuously and peacefully had jurisdiction over the South China Sea islands. Through collections from historical materials, evidence, and interviews with marine experts, the Global Times is publishing a series of stories to illustrate how the Philippines disregards historical fact, distorts international law, and violates the consensus, which was reached and repeatedly confirmed through negotiations between China and the Philippines.

Solid historical proof

Huangyan Dao, which is located at 15°07'N, 117°51'E, is formed of coral reefs and is the only island exposed above the water among the Zhongsha Islands. It was recorded in the biography of astronomer Guo Shoujing in Yuan Shi (the History of the Yuan Dynasty) when Guo was commissioned by the Emperor to perform a land and sea survey in 1279. This confirms the discovery of Huangyan Dao by China as early as during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).

Records show that Huangyan Dao is an inherent territory of China, and China continues to exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction over it in a peaceful, and effective manner. In January 1935, the Lands and Waters Mapping Review Committee of the then-Chinese government approved and published the names of 132 islands, shoals, reefs, and sand bars in the South China Sea. Huangyan Dao was registered under the name of Scarborough Reef, belonging to the Zhongsha Islands.

In October 1947, the then-Chinese government reviewed and published a list of name changes to the islands in the South China Sea, in which the name Scarborough Reef was replaced by Minzhu Jiao, still as part of the Zhongsha Islands. In 1983, in a published list of names of the South China Sea islands issued by Chinese national geographical names authority, the island was referred to as Huangyan Dao, with Minzhu Jiao as an alternative name.

The official maps published by the successive governments of China have always marked Huangyan Dao as Chinese territory. Subsequent Chinese government's announcements and declarations regarding the sovereignty of the South China Sea islands have all stated that the Huangyan Dao belongs to China.

Since ancient times, Chinese fishing boats have frequently engaged in fishing activities in the waters around Huangyan Dao. The Chinese governments had also sent research teams to Huangyan Dao multiple times for scientific exploration.

On the other hand, prior to 1997, the Philippines had never made territorial claims over Huangyan Dao. Huangyan Dao is not within the territorial range of the Philippines and is not Philippine territory. However, in April 1997, the Philippines changed its stance, claiming that Huangyan Dao is within the Philippines' claimed 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and therefore is "Philippine territory."

On February 17, 2009, the Philippine Congress passed an act, which unilaterally included Huangyan Dao and some Nansha Islands as Philippine territory. On April 11, 2012, a set of photographs which showed a group of Chinese fishermen standing shirtless, on the deck of a boat under the blazing sun grabbed news headlines. They were being held by Philippine Navy soldiers. It transpired that 12 Chinese fishing boats had been undertaking their regular fishing activities inside the Huangyan Dao territory, when on April 10, 2012, a Philippine naval vessel approached, harassed, and disrupted the fishing operations.

China has repeatedly lodged solemn representations against Philippine impingement on China's territorial sovereignty and harming Chinese fishermen. At the same time, the Chinese government swiftly took action to safeguard sovereignty and rescue the Chinese fishermen. In June 2012, the Philippines withdrew relevant vessels and personnel from Huangyan Dao.

Experts noted that the Philippines' assertion is a deliberate and absurd distortion of international law. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Convention) allows coastal states to establish a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, but coastal states do not have the right to infringe upon the inherent territorial sovereignty of other countries. The practice of using the Convention to change the ownership of territorial sovereignty is a violation of international law, and negates the purposes and principles of the Convention.

Keep calling for peace
In 2016, China released a white paper titled "China adheres to the position of settling through negotiation the relevant disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea." The white paper stated that while firmly safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, China adheres to the position of settling disputes through negotiation and consultation, and managing differences through rules and mechanisms. 

On July 14, 2023, when attending the series of foreign ministers' meetings on East Asia cooperation in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi said that China has always insisted that disputes should be settled peacefully by the parties directly concerned through friendly consultation. This principle has also been included in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).  

Chen Hong, Asia-Pacific research expert at the East China Normal University, told the Global Times that in the near future, the Philippines will likely use the ASEAN, especially claimant countries, to distort and magnify territorial disputes into collective contradictions between China and the ASEAN, an approach obviously lacking in logic.

However, the Philippines has always been on the wrong, and the government's practice of misleading the public will not last long. China should let the power of peace receive more attention, Chen said.

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