Haikou, Hainan (China Daily/ANN) - On April 10, China and the Philippines became embroiled in a standoff in disputed waters in the South China Sea. China has shown restraint in handling the incident. But the messages sent by the Philippine government and media have been provoking and its actions, such as urging other countries to 'take a stand' and extending the dispute to the entire South China Sea, have only intensified the situation.
The harassment of fishermen from Hainan Province on April 10th is just one of 700 similar cases in the last 12 years when Chinese fishermen have been arrested, robbed or assaulted by the armed forces of neighbouring countries while fishing in the South China Sea. These countries have been taking advantage of China's restraint and have seriously violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. To respond to these blatant challenges to its sovereignty, China has stepped up protecting its territory and its jurisdiction over the adjacent waters as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea.
China has sovereignty over Huangyan Island and jurisdiction rights over its adjacent waters, which are a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen. China was the first to name Huangyan Island and incorporate it into its territory and exercise jurisdiction over it. Huangyan Island was first discovered by China in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). In 1279, Huangyan Island was included in survey of the seas around China conducted by Guo Shoujing for Kublai Khan. Since its discovery, Huangyan Island has been incorporated into Chinese territory as part of the Zhongsha Islands. Since 1949, Huangyan Island has been under the administration of first Guangdong Province and then Hainan Province.
Discovery, consistent administration, historical fishing rights are all recognised as valid in international law to support territorial claims.
The Philippines never claimed Huangyan Island until 1997. Instead, its officials have repeatedly stated that the island was not Philippine territory. Philippine maps published in 1981 and 1984 do not include Huangyan Island as Philippine territory.
The Philippines has made three arguments for its claim at different times. Its earliest argument was that Huangyan Island was closer to the Philippines than to China. But geographic proximity has long been dismissed in international law and practice as a principle for ownership. The Philippines also argues that it 'inherited' the sovereignty and jurisdiction over Huangyan Island from the US, which controlled the island in the 1950s and used it as a target range for military exercises. This argument is also invalid in international law as the US' control infringed on China's sovereignty over the island. The latest argument is that Huangyan Island is located within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. This is a false interpretation of the UN Convention on the Law Of the Sea. The basic principle of the law of the sea is 'the land dominates the sea', meaning it is the territorial sovereignty of coastal states that generates their sovereign rights and jurisdiction in an Exclusive Economic Zone and over the continental shelf. The fact that Huangyan Island is within 200 nautical miles of the Philippine coastline does not naturally give the Philippines sovereignty over it or make it part of its territory.
The Convention on the Law Of the Sea allows coastal states to claim a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, but does not grant them the right to undermine the inherent territory and sovereignty of other countries. The Convention on the Law Of the Sea should not be used as an excuse by any states to infringe on the territorial sovereignty of other states.
The Philippines' claim to Huangyan Island also runs counter to its own legislation as well as historical fact and legal principles.
Philippine territory is set by a series of international treaties, including the Treaty of Paris between the United States and Spain in 1898, the Treaty of Washington between the United States and Spain in 1900 and the Treaty between United States and Great Britain in 1930. All of them state clearly that the western limit of the Philippine territory is 118 degrees east longitude - Huangyan Island is outside this limit. The legal effects of these three treaties have been re-affirmed by several official documents, such as the 1935 Philippine Constitution, the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defence Treaty and some acts of the Philippine republic.
China has never changed its stance of seeking to resolve the dispute through peaceful diplomatic channels. China attaches great importance to maintaining friendly and good-neighbourly ties with Southeast Asian countries. It upholds the stance of resolving the South China Sea issue through peaceful means directly between claimant parties.
However, the lack of mutual trust has caused misinterpretation of China's intentions and actions in the South China Sea, and the dispute has also served as a stepping stone for powers outside the region to interfere.
The author is president of National Institute for South China Sea Studies. Source: chinausfocus.com