Ancient Maps spark debate between China and Philippines over South China Sea islands
The Chinese government claims ninety percent of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, an archipelago of 750 islands and reefs nearer the Philippines. However, a series of ancient maps have drawn this claim into question. The government of the Philippines says Beijing is overreaching in claiming territory so far south of the island of Hainan, which historical maps show to be southernmost China, far north of the Spratly archipelago.
The Nine Dash Line in the Wikimedia Commons map below shows how much of the South China Sea China claims for itself.
A Filipino judge examined maps going back hundreds of years and said the southernmost China limit historically was the island of Hainan, which is at the top of this map (above) far to the northwest. The bottom of China’s Nine Dash Line extends almost to Malaysia, 1,200 miles (1,931 km) south.
One map in particular, from 1136 A.D., that was engraved in stone clearly shows Hainan as the southern limit of China.
Rubbing of an 1136 A.D. map engraved in stone showing Hainan (at the bottom of the map) as the southern limit of China (South China Morning Post image of map submitted to the U.N.)
"All these ancient maps show that since the first Chinese maps appeared, the southernmost territory of China has always been Hainan Island, with its ancient names being Zhuya, then Qiongya, and thereafter Qiongzhou," said Philippines Senior Supreme Court Judge Antonio Carpio last year when the dispute made news.
Carpio calls the Nine-Dash Line by which China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea a “giant historical fraud.”
The Philippines filed a 4,000-page territory dispute over China’s claims of the South China Sea with the United Nations. Last June, China refused to defend its claims to the sea in a U.N court. The Chinese government said it does not recognize international jurisdiction over its dispute with the Philippines.
PhilSTAR.com said China snubbed the U.N. on a December 15, 2014, deadline to defend itself in the matter before the court. The online paper called the sea the West Philippine Sea.
A China official seemed to indicate China would defend its area with force if necessary.
"The Chinese side will have to make necessary response to any intentional and provocative action unilaterally initiated by relevant party," said China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang on December 15, 2014.
Carpio said in June 2014 the Philippines intends to establish China has no historical claim to the region even though “historical facts” cannot be invoked under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea because China said it would make war to defend its claim.
The Philippines started its case with the U.N. tribunal in March 2014 after aggressive action by Chinese forces on fishermen.
“On March 9, Chinese coast guard vessels drove away two Philippine ships from Ayungin Shoal, preventing them to re-supply a small group of Filipino soldiers guarding the maritime feature. In January, the Chinese coast guard also fired water cannons at Filipino fishermen on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, also called Bajo de Masinloc,” philSTAR.com said in its December article.
Ancient maps of the East Indies, which the Philippines were part of, show the small shoal, about the size of three rugby pitches west of the Philippines. The shoal has potential fossil fuel reserves and valuable fisheries.
A 1770 map by Britain's Royal Hydrographer shows the Panacot Shoal, now called Scarborough Shoal. “Panacot” is a Filipino name in the Tagalog language. (National Library of Australia, as published by Quartz.com.)
“China has held control of the shoal since 2012, leading to clashes between Filipino and Chinese fisherman and an ongoing arbitration case at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. Elsewhere in the disputed area, China appears to be building an airbase and a kindergarten, raising the risk of further tensions,” reports Quartz.
The documents and maps submitted by the Philippines to the international tribunal quoted a 1986 judgment of the International Court of Justice, which said, “Maps merely constitute information which varies in accuracy from case to case; of themselves, and by virtue solely of their existence, they cannot constitute a territorial title.”
Vietnam also claims part of the South China Sea. Vietnamese call the sea the East Sea because it is just off the eastern coast of that country.
Featured image: Old Map of the Philippines in year 1628 showing the Reed Bank (an area just East of the Spratly islands) as part of the Philippines. (Image Source)
By Mark Miller