Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Emperor’s Mysterious Map and the South China Sea

Is China censoring ancient clues to the secret history of the Spratly Islands? Within the imperial chambers of the Wanli Emperor (萬曆), sovereign of the Ming Dynasty from 1563 to 1620, could be found an encyclopedic work of cartographic craftsmanship unlike anything existing in Europe. It was a multicolored world map mounted on a six-paneled folding screen, taller than a man and twice that in width, which transfixed the emperor with the revelation that his own empire, vast as it was, was nevertheless a minor portion of all under heaven. It was said that the emperor himself frequently studied it with intense curiosity and ordered 12 more full-size copies for the palace. EXTENT OF THE EMPIRE The giant map was entitled Comprehensive Chart of the Myriad Lands upon the Foundation of the Earth (坤輿萬國全圖) and depicted a world 20 times more expansive than the emperor had ever imagined. It bore over 850 place names and minutely scripted legends for each kingdom, island and continent. It featured latitude and longitude lines identifying their locations on the spherical Earth. In the map quadrant encompassing what we now know as the South China Sea was the legend, “The Great Ming is renowned for the richness of its civilization. It comprises all between the 15th and 42nd parallels. The other tributary realms of the four seas are very numerous.” During the late Ming, the northern borders of the empire stopped at the 42nd parallel along the Great Wall that protected China from northern tribes. In the south, the empire ended at the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on the 15th parallel in the South China Sea, beyond which were the Ming vassal kingdoms of Southeast Asia. The map was the collaborative work between an Italian Jesuit missionary in Beijing, Matteo Ricci, and a famed Chinese geographer, Li Wocun (李我存). Li compiled the data points for Ming territories, while Ricci filled in the rest of the world and combined European and Chinese geographic knowledge for the first time in Chinese or in any language.

South China Sea: U.S. Strategically Squeezing, Says Beijing

The U.S. is continuing to strategically squeeze China in the South China Sea, claims a new editorial in the Beijing-based Global Times newspaper. In this photo from Wednesday, June 15, 2016, an F/A-18 Hornet takes off the deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS John C. Stennis during joint military exercise between the United States, Japan and India off the coast 180 miles east of Japan’s southernmost island of Okinawa. The U.S. says at least one Chinese ship tailed the USS John C. Stennis daily during its recent cruise through the South China Sea, although no hostile incidents were reported. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File) The U.S. is continuing to strategically squeeze China in the South China Sea, claims a new editorial in the Beijing-based Global Times newspaper. While not being the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist party (CCP), the newspaper often expresses its views and policies. The statement was made on Wednesday, discussing a recent standoff between Indonesia and China in the South China Sea. Indonesian warships fired warning shots on Friday at Chinese fishing vessels that were operating within Indonesia’s 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), off the Natuna Islands, northwest of Borneo. Eleven of the twelve Chinese boats fled to safety but the Indonesian navy captured one of the vessels and detained its seven member crew. Beijing also claimed that one fisherman, not one of the detained crew, suffered injuries from the warning shots and was evacuated to Hainan Island, China’s southernmost point, not counting China’s disputed South China Sea possessions. After the incident both Jakarta and Beijing traded barbs over sovereignty issues and South China Sea claims.

Can Hague ruling help curb China advances?

Are China’s claims and actions in the South China Sea violations of international law? As early as by the end of this month, a court of arbitration in The Hague is expected to hand down the first ruling on the issue in a case initiated by the Philippines based on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The struggle between China and the international community over the “rule of law” is about to get into full swing. In April 2012, a Philippine warship cracking down on Chinese fishing vessels got in a standoff with a Chinese government ship sent to block it near Scarborough Shoal west of Luzon Island in the Philippines. After about two months, bad weather forced the Philippine vessel to leave the area. With this, effective control of the shoal switched from the Philippines to China. Unable to stand up to the assertive maritime advances made by China, which is backed by dominant military and economic might, the Philippines took its case to The Hague in January 2013. According to regulations stipulated in the convention, and the Chinese government’s declaration based on those regulations that it would not accept any related procedures, the disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime boundary demarcation are outside the jurisdiction of the court. Consequently, Manila focused the content of its case on the illegality of China’s claims and actions.

The South China Sea Moment of Truth Is Almost Here

The Philippines’ lawfare strategy in the South China Sea disputes is inching closer to a moment of truth. In coming weeks, an arbitral tribunal, formed under the aegis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is set to pass a final judgment on the ongoing maritime spats between China and the Philippines. For the first time, a team of impartial, top-caliber legal experts will officially weigh on the validity of China’s expansive claims and growing footprint across arguably the world’s most important waterway. What is at stake is preventing China from fulfilling a Seldenian Closed Sea (Mare clausum) in favor of preserving a Grotian Free Sea (Mare Liberum) at the heart of the Western Pacific.

On the eve of a verdict

Legal circles are abuzz with talk of an impending verdict in the dispute between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China. The arbitral tribunal that has jurisdiction under the compulsory dispute-settlement provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is said to be ready to promulgate judgment sometime in the first week of July. Not too long ago, an article appeared in the South China Morning Post on how the PROC might save face after an adverse judgment. It is widely (not wildly, I hope) surmised that the tribunal will rule in favor of the Philippines. What China would do should judgment be adverse to it is a no-brainer. At the outset, it has rejected the tribunal’s assertion of jurisdiction. It abstained from participation in all proceedings. But it had earlier issued statements and declarations that provided the adjudicating panel with enough material with which to make out the PROC’s legal claim and its warrants. Predictably, the Chinese will shrug off the decision—or at least put on the appearance of shrugging it off—by pointing to its non-participation in the proceedings. Legally, of course, that is an untenable position. A party to a dispute cannot avoid the binding force of adjudication by the expedient of refusing to participate. The proceedings, it must be insisted, were not voluntary. Arbitration is the “default-setting” in respect to dispute resolution when the parties —antecedently bound by the provisions of the Convention—have not agreed on a common mode of dispute settlement. And so it is that many, Filipinos among them, doubt that the judgment would do very much. How does one enforce a judgment against a behemoth that has muscle enough to keep even the Americans at bay? But that is not really the point. The first effect of any judgment is a declaration of where rights lie, and in the case of the present dispute, that might just be what is most important. China’s aggression in the area—its forcible occupation of islands and features, its eviction of all others from the disputed waters, its saber-rattling—would be arrant lawlessness, if not criminality, except for the color of legitimacy lent by its claims, supported by documents it has thus far proffered, including maps supposedly going back to the Sung Dynasty. After a tribunal ruling that passes upon the claims of either party, then it shall become clear whose actions are pursuant to sovereignty and whose are nothing more than the swaggering of a bully! But it will be well to remember what the matter in issue is, what the law calls the lis mota. The judgment will not resolve claims to sovereignty. That is beyond the jurisdiction of the proceedings and beyond the purview of UNCLOS. Claims to territorial sovereignty are properly raised in different proceedings, if not before the International Court of Justice. What we have asked the arbitral tribunal to rule on are our claims to sovereign rights and the actions of the People’s Republic of China in that part of ocean vis-a-vis the rights guaranteed us by the Convention.

World View: South China Sea: China’s List of Supporters Found to Be Delusional

Any day now, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a United Nations international court in the Hague, is supposed to issue a ruling on a case brought by the Philippines against China on the merits of China’s claims to the entire South China Sea. The case is brought under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China claims does not apply to them. China always says that its claims “are indisputable,” and this is clearly a lie, since the claims are widely disputed. In fact, China’s claims are at least delusional, and may even be fabricated, as we reported a few days ago. ( “22-Jun-16 World View — China’s ‘ironclad proof’ of South China Sea claims revealed as hoax”) Not only is China delusional about some of their evidence, it now appears that they are also delusional about the kind of support they are getting from the international community. Even though the Court’s ruling would be little more than symbolic, and even though there would be no way to enforce the Court’s ruling against China, and even though China has already said that it will ignore any ruling, and even though China has bitterly complained about and even threatened the Philippines for even going to the Court in the first place, it is clear that Chinese officials are close to a state of panic over a possible ruling against them. Out of anxiety, China is resorting to a full-court press in the propaganda realm, and are doing everything they can to convince other countries to endorse their position. In particular, China is targeting many distant countries and land-locked countries, with no direct interest in the South China Sea.

OPINION: Ways to make China comply

Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio discusses the Philippines’ options during his lecture before members of the Philippine Press Institute. The Philippines is not exactly helpless if the United Nations Arbitral Court decides in our favor in the case we filed against China and China ignores it. The Hague-based U.N. Artbitral Court is expected to decide on the case on July 7. In January 2013, the Philippines asked the U.N. court to: 1. Declare as illegal China’s all encompassing nine-dash line map; 2. Declare as part of Philippine 350 nautical mile continental shelf low tide elevations (rocks or shoals that are seen only during low tide) where China has built permanent structures; 3. Declare that the waters outside the 12 nautical miles surrounding the Panatag Island (Scarborough shoal) should be declared as part of the Philippines 200 natutical mile Exclusive Economic Zone. China refused to participate in the Arbitral Court proceedings and has said many times that it will not adhere to whatever ruling it hands down. In his lecture before members of the Philippine Press Institute yesterday at the Century Park Hotel, Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio said, “there is no world policeman to enforce the rule” but the following can happen: 1. The world’s naval powers which consider freedom of navigation and over flight their national interest have declared they will sail and fly in the high seas and the Economic Exclusive Zones of the South China Sea.

Indonesia president visits islands on warship, makes point to China

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s president held a cabinet meeting aboard a warship off the Natuna Islands on Thursday (Jun 23), asserting sovereignty over waters in the southern reaches of the South China Sea after Beijing stated its “over-lapping claim” on nearby waters. President Joko Widodo’s visit to the remote island chain along with his chief security minister, foreign minister, and military chief was described by Indonesian officials as the strongest message that has been given to China over the issue. During the cabinet meeting onboard the Indonesian navy corvette, Widodo called on the military to step up patrols in the wake of a series of face-offs between Indonesian and Chinese vessels in area. “The capabilities of the military…in securing our seas should be improved, whether it’s technology or general preparedness,” Widodo said, according to a presidential palace statement. Officials told reporters the cabinet also discussed matters of sovereignty and development. Indonesia has established a special economic zone in the gas-rich waters around Natuna Islands, which lie over 340 kilometres (212 miles) off the northwest tip of Borneo island. Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung, who also accompanied Widodo, posted online photos of the president aboard the warship and of a written message he left for the crew, saying “Defend Indonesia”. The president’s visit to a body of water that Indonesia calls the Natuna Sea reflected the government’s strong stance over the issue, Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said. “In the course of our history, we’ve never been this stern (with China). This is also to demonstrate that the president is not taking the issue lightly,” he told The Jakarta Post newspaper. Both sides have denied that the matter represents a territorial or diplomatic dispute.

Trial of the Century: Philippines vs. China in the South China Sea

In the coming days, an obscure arbitral tribunal, constituted under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is expected to issue a final ruling on the Philippines’ complaint against China’s expanding (military and civilian) footprint across the world’s most important waterway, the South China Sea. As I argue in my latest book, Asia’s New Battlefield, the next great power clash will most likely happen in this highly strategic maritime route. Let’s put things into perspective. In the last two years, China has reclaimed 3200 acres (1,295 hectares) of land to build gigantic artificial islands across the Spratly chain of islands, giving birth to a sprawling network of civilian and military installations across the disputed waters. Singlehandedly, China in recent years has reclaimed almost two dozen times more than all other claimant states combined in the past half-a-century. And nothing compares to China’s futuristic and highly sophisticated artificially-built islands in the high seas. China is even more dominant in other portions of the disputed waters. Its control of the Paracel chain of islands is a fait accompli, while the Pratas chain of islands are under the administration of what Beijing considers as a renegade province, Taiwan, which will likely be eventually reincorporated into a Greater China. There are reports that China may soon also establish military facilities on the Scarborough Shoal, which lies just 200 kilometres away from Philippine shores but a whopping 900 kilometres away from nearest Chinese coastline. There are concerns that China may soon establish an exclusion zone in the area. The sheer scale, speech and technological sophistication of China’s reclamation activities, the ever-larger deployment of Chinese fishermen-cum-militia forces, stationing of advanced military hardware like high-frequency radars and surface-to-air-missile systems, the augmentation of Chinese coast guard, submarine and naval presence in the area, not to mention an uptick in Chinese aerial interception of foreign reconnaissance aircrafts in the South China Sea – they all underscore Beijing’s intent on dominating what it describes as its blue “national soil”. Soon, China may be in a position to establish an “exclusion zone” in the area, imperilling freedom of overflight and navigation for regional and external military forces in the area. Four centuries after the publication of British jurist John Selden’s The Closed Sea (Mare clausum), which argued for exclusive sovereign control of international waters, Beijing is inching closer to transforming the South China Sea— which handles up to a third of global maritime commerce, four times as much energy transport as the Suez canal, and more than a tenth of global fisheries stock—into what some would call a virtual Chinese lake. “The Sea, by the Law of Nature or Nations, is not common to all men, but capable of private Dominion or proprietie as well as the Land,” Selden wrote in the The Closed Sea (Mare clausum) in 1635. It was a direct rebuttal of Dutch Jurist Hugo Grotius’ influential book, The Free Sea (Mare Liberum), which served as the foundation of modern international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). For Grotius, high seas are global commons that, by their very nature, should be accessible to the entire humankind on a non-exclusive basis. And this is precisely what the Philippines’ arbitration case is all about: Preserving shared and rule-based access to global commons such as the South China Sea. It is about ensuring the modern principle of ‘rule of law’ against the ancient principal of ‘might makes right’. Perturbed by the prospect of an embarrassing legal setback, China has embarked on a systematic effort to delegitimise the Philippines’ arbitration case and misrepresent its nature. Beijing has lashed out at the arbitration proceedings and, in a comically desperate fashion, has sought to undermine the legitimacy of the arbitration body by setting up its own international courts and (supposedly) rallying up to sixty countries, mostly poor and many landlocked, to question the Philippines’ arbitration manoeuvre.