In light of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Philippines, the International Studies Department held a lecture, which featured acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio last November 19 at the Waldo Perfecto Seminar Room. In the lecture, Carpio gave a brief background of the dispute in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines’ proof of sovereignty, and what he believed was the best course of action.
Issues about the West Philippine Sea
The visit by Xi was timely according to Carpio as one of the issues that would be discussed is the dispute in the West Philippine Sea, which includes the Joint Exploration Agreement, a move Carpio argued was seen as a compromise made by President Rodrigo Duterte. Despite The Hague ruling being in favor of the Philippines, stating that China had no historical claim to the contested water, China has not recognized the ruling and has continued to assert its authority over the region. This has in turn prompted numerous naval powers such as the United States, France, Japan, Canada, and India to sail to the area and conduct military exercises in order to assert the fact that it was part of international waters, as military exercises can only be done within a state’s national waters or in international waters as stated in United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.
However, in an earlier statement, Duterte stated that China is already in possession of the “South China Sea”, another name given to the West Philippine Sea, and called upon the naval powers to “stop adventurism” in order to prevent provocation. “If we say that is so, then we are giving up our sovereign rights,” Carpio opined.
As Carpio further explained, China is under the belief that it has a historical claim over the sea, which includes islands and landmarks part of Philippine territory, namely the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. In previous statements, China has asserted that Chinese fishermen have used the aforementioned islands even in ancient times. Carpio also added that Guo Shoujing, a Chinese scholar who was tasked to build observatories around China for the purpose of developing an accurate calendar, had built an observatory on Scarborough shoal, which meant that Scarborough Shoal is part of Chinese territory.
Proofs for Philippines’ sovereign rights
As a highlight of his lecture, Carpio presented and discussed numerous maps that were created by different cartographers, each belonging to one of the naval powers in the area at different points in time. Some of the maps were political maps of China created during the recent dynasties such as the Qing and Yuan dynasties, while others included those created during the Japanese occupation in the 20th century. Other maps such as those made by British and Spanish cartographers earlier during the Spanish and American occupation of the Philippines were also shown. These maps, Carpio argued, counters China’s “historical claim,” with some of the maps being presented to the international tribunal to decide upon which state had sovereign authority over the region.
Among all of the dynasty-era maps from China presented, none of them included or even mentioned Scarborough Shoal or the Spratly Islands. As Carpio emphasized, the Hainan province was the southernmost territory of China. It was only in the years of World War II that China first mentioned the Spratly Islands, while also recognizing Philippine rule over it in China’s Handbook of 1937 to 1945.
China, meanwhile, argued that the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal were not part of Philippine territory as these were not included in the Treaty of Paris of 1898, an agreement between Spain and the United States to relinquish the former’s claims to certain territories which included the Philippines. However, Carpio stated that this argument was countered with the Treaty of Washington of 1900, a follow-up to the Treaty of Paris which sought to clarify some ambiguities in the territories being relinquished by Spain, adding that the surrounding islands are considered part of Philippine territory.
Carpio emphasized that most Chinese are taught that the South China Sea belonged to them. “All the Chinese from children to government officials, are taught that [the] whole South China Sea belongs to them,” he stated. With this, he asked the crowd how their mindset can be changed in a similar manner.
Actions that Filipinos can do
Before ending his lecture, Carpio imparted two things that Filipinos can do about the issue, which are to encourage all the naval forces in the world to exercise their freedom to navigate and to ask people from different parts of the world to explain to China that they do not have historical claims over the South China Sea.
When it comes to encouraging the navies to roam freely, Carpio stressed that the water in the high seas belong to all mankind and that the resources that are present in the exclusive economic zones belong solely to the adjacent coastal states.
Carpio also urged Filipinos to seek help from the rest of the world alongside Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei when it comes to explaining to the Chinese people that China has no historical claim to the South China Sea.