The South China Sea is the world’s largest sea. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it covers 1,148,500 square miles. In the last 2,500 years mariners for Malaysia, China and Indonesia navigated the South China Sea to trade sandalwood, silk, tea and spices. Today it carries roughly a third of the world’s shipping and accounts for a tenth of the world’s fish catch. China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines all have 200-mile coastal economic zones in the South China Sea. All of these countries also claim the Spratly Islands which are in the middle of the sea.
About $5.3 trillion of global trade passes through the South China Sea each year, $1.2 trillion of which passes through U.S. ports. Below the South China Sea is an estimated $3 trillion worth of oil, gas and minerals. Fisheries in the South China Sea have been decimated by overfishing and polluting chemicals from shrimp farms and factories. By some estimates there is enough oil under the South China Sea to last China for 60 years. The Spratly Islands are a group of tiny islands, reefs, shoals and rocks in the South China Sea claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.
Most of the islands are submerged during high tide and generally regarded as uninhabitable. No one paid much attention to them until the 1960s when it was realized there could be mineral wealth and oil deposits located in the waters around them. The main reason for the conflict within the Spratly islands lies in the territorial disputes and quarrels among the different countries. Natural resources include fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential. There are mainly 2 reasons for disputes to occur in these islands mainly: 1. The potential oil and natural gas reserves that lies dormant under the Spratly Islands. 2. Construction of the busiest port
Asia’s had been experiencing a rapid economic boom with giants such as China emerging as the next economic superpower. However, its economic advancement requires a large amount of energy and to claim the Spratly Islands would be useful for the countries’ future economic advancement. Each of these countries requires the oil and natural resources within the sea bed of the Spratly islands to serve for these economic needs. Many of the emerging Asian countries require oil from the Middle East and Africa, these resources would have to pass through the Strait of Malacca into the South China Sea.
The Spratly Islands lies on the strategic lines of the South China Sea therefore it means that all 6 countries hope to have their hands on the Spratly islands to set up a sea port along the South China Seas. Over half of the world’s merchant fleet sails through the South China Sea every year. Therefore setting up a sea port at the Spratly Islands would therefore create one of the busiest ports in the world.
This port will create numerous job opportunities and revenues for emerging countries. This had therefore sparked a part of the conflict as due to countries desire for the strategic location to belong to them, they would quarrel and fight over the claims of these islands to support their economic needs. Now, the real question is “Who is the RIGHTFUL owner of the Spratly Islands?” Well, as a Filipino, I believe that the Philippines rightfully owns the Spratlys and today, I would prove our country’s ownership over the islands.
The Philippines’ claim could be based on Res Nullius which means “nobody’s property”. It means that any uninhabited or abandoned island belongs to the discoverer. When Filipino Thomas Cloma claimed ownership, and renamed it “Kalayaan”, he was appropriating it for the Philippines. To add to this, the Philippines’ partial claim is based on geography, and that the islands lie within its 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone accorded to it by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Philippines did not lay a formal claim to the island until 1978, however the Philippine military has had garrisons in the area. On the other hand, there are lots of face-off not only at the Shoal but there are other issues that deteriorate the relationship between China and Philippines.
The military reported that the number of Chinese vessels at Scarborough Shoal had increased to more than 30, from 14 reported on the month of May last year. China now has three big ships in the area, in addition to seven Chinese fishing vessels and 23 utility boats. The Philippines has only two vessels in the lagoon, the BRP Edsa, a Coast Guard search-and-rescue ship, and the MCS 3001, a vessel belonging to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
A Chinese national was quoted as urging the Philippines to withdraw all its vessels from the island waters and to stop operations against Chinese fishing boats and Chinese law enforcement vessels. At sea, the dispute flared in early April when the Philippines said one of its warships had found eight Chinese fishing vessels near the disputed island. Philippine Navy personnel boarded the Chinese vessels, where the Filipino claimed they found large quantities of illegal coral and fish.
Chinese surveillance ships arrived, preventing the arrest of the Chinese fisherman. Another instance is when China’s largest offshore oil producer, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation began drilling a deep-sea well in an area about 200 miles southeast of Hong Kong. The extension of the dispute to banana imports came also an issue, when a document by the Chinese government agency in charge of quarantining questionable food imports was made public on a Chinese Web site, saying that 1,200 containers of bananas from the Philippines had been held at various ports on the grounds of “quarantine concerns”.
The quarantine agency urged the local authorities to increase examinations for harmful organisms and issuing travel warnings to Chinese tourists and a lot more punitive economic action against the Philippines. Soon afterward, the United States held annual maritime exercises with the Philippines, exacerbating China’s arguments that Manila was acting with the support of its American ally. The dangerous standoff over the Scarborough Shoal is above all the responsibility of the Obama administration. Its confrontational stance towards China has encouraged South East Asian countries to press their territorial claims in the South China Sea.
It is unthinkable that the Philippines, which is militarily and economically far weaker than China, would have acted so recklessly without the political and military backing of Washington. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear Washington’s support for the former American colony when she was in Manila last November 2012. Amid rising tensions with China, she reaffirmed the 1951 US-Philippines mutual defence treaty, declaring that “the United States will always be in the corner of the Philippines.”
Clinton also pointedly referred to the South China Sea as the “the West Philippines Sea”—the new name invented by chauvinists in Manila. Clinton also intervened diplomatically, offering to help broker international talks to resolve longstanding maritime disputes involving China and South East Asian countries. Her remark was a signal to ASEAN countries to press their disputes with China, which insists that claims be resolved bilaterally. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi reacted by branding the remarks as “virtually an attack on China.”
But on our part is “moving forward with the legal track as a durable solution to our disputes in the West Philippines Sea” Stressing the need to “pursue a peaceful resolution” of the conflict with China, and would follow a three-track approach: political, through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; legal, through United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) settlement, and diplomatic, through continuing consultations to defuse the current tensions at Scarborough Shoal. By the way, had we perceived the Washington’s interest in the Spratly in spite of their support to Philippines? The Spratly Islands is right at the heart of International waters and these waters are commonly used to connect the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.
These interest of course is to keep these lanes open for international trade and also that the US Navy remains the biggest navy to patrol these waters. Meanwhile, China hit back at the Philippines’ condemnation towards it over the South China Sea issue and reiterated its objection against international arbitration on the matter. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a written statement that “We regret that the Philippines stated that it has become impossible for it to continue bilateral discussions with China, and are dissatisfied with its refusal to diplomatic negotiation and closure of the door to dialogue.”
Her comments came after the Philippine Foreign Ministry issued an eight-point statement, saying that a Chinese statement was baseless and China’s hard line position made it impossible to continue negotiations and led the Philippines to finally resort to international arbitration. Hua said that the Philippines’ claim of having exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful settlement of the dispute was completely not true. China is firmly opposed to the Philippines’ indifference to China’s lawful rights and interests and legitimate concerns as well as its willful act of pushing for international arbitration.
The Philippines’ illegal occupation of some of the islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands is the direct cause of the South China Sea dispute between the two countries. China sticks to the longstanding position of safeguarding national territorial sovereignty, which is totally legitimate. She adds, bearing in mind relations between the two nations as well as regional peace and stability, China is committed to solving disputes concerning territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation through bilateral negotiations in accordance with relevant regulations of international law and the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) “This position remains unchanged,” said Hua.
“However, it is regrettable that over recent years, the Philippines has changed its attitude and approach in handling the issue, went back on its consensus with China, broke its commitment in the DOC, cast aside the framework of dialogue upheld by a majority of countries, refused to cooperate, aggravated the situation and set off the incident of the Huangyan Island last year by harassing Chinese civilians with warships.
This cast a shadow over China-Philippines relations and peace and stability of the South China Sea.” According to Hua, the Philippines publicly criticized China during the recently held ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meetings, regardless of the consensus among ASEAN countries, which reasonably drew refutation from China and it is difficult for them to understand why the Philippines continue to play up the issue of the South China Sea, distort the facts and smear China. The overall situation of the South China Sea is stable and they are committed to safeguarding peace and stability of the South China Sea with maximum good will and sincerity. They never closed the door to negotiation and consultation with the Philippines in the hope of improving and developing bilateral relations.
But China urges the Philippines to correct its erroneous actions, make a positive response to China’s suggestions in March 2010 and January 2012 respectively on establishing the Sino-Philippine regular consultation mechanism on maritime issues and resuming the Sino-Philippine mechanism on trust-building measures, and come back to the correct track of resolving disputes through bilateral negotiations. The issue about the Spratly Island is a long conversation. The roots of this issue may be as rich as the resources surrounding this island. Over the period of time, the argument is getting exacerbated between the China and Philippines and other countries as well who wants to claim it.
“Who is the RIGHTFUL owner of the Spratly Islands?” And although I am not versed in international law that applies here, I seek to have equal ownership of the 6 countries if it will lead to a catastrophic war. Remember that this wealth is from nature, we just trusted to manage it so we must foster and nurture it correctly with diplomatic techniques. Nor should it break and not only benefit the exploiters and powerful nation. PNoy stay positive and confident that, under President Xi’s leadership, the Chinese people will continue to realize their goals of peace, prosperity and happiness for all and that the relation between the two countries will remain “largely positive.”
Cherylyn N. Amazona