Spratly Islands 101

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Pagasa Island, Spratly Archipelago, 1998 Photograph by Michael S. Yamashita “Staking a claim, the Philippines built this airfield to carry troops to a speck of land that China, Taiwan, and Vietnam also call their own. The United States pledges not to intervene in the contested Spratlys.”

The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of approximately 100 reefs and islets in the South China Sea. Part of the South China Sea Islands, the Spratly Islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and gas and oil deposits, whose true extent is unknown and disputed. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the entire group of islands, while Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines each claim various parts. Several of the nations involved have soldiers stationed in the Spratlys and control various installations on different islands and reefs. The Republic of China (Taiwan) occupies one of the largest islands, Taiping. In February 1995, the PRC occupied Mischief Reef, creating a political crisis in Southeast Asia, especially with the Philippines. In early 1999, these disputes escalated as the Philippines claimed that the PRC was building military installations on the reef.

Although the disputes have calmed to some degree, they still remain one of the most plausible scenarios for a major East Asia war involving the PRC or a smaller war between other claimants, a scenario depicted by Tom Clancy in his novel SSN.

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Political Dispute

The first indication that the Spratly Islands were more than merely a hazard to shipping was in 1968 when oil was discovered in the region. The PRC’s Geology and Mineral Resources Ministry has estimated that the Spratly area holds oil and natural gas reserves of 17.7 billion tons (1.60 × 1010 kg), as compared to the 13 billion tons (1.17 × 1010 kg) held by Kuwait, placing it as the fourth largest reserve bed in the world. Naturally, these large reserves assisted in intensifying the situation and propelled the territorial claims of the neighbouring countries. On 11 March 1976, the first major Philippine oil discovery occurred off the coast of Palawan, within the Spratly Islands territory, and these oil fields now account for fifteen percent of all petroleum consumed in the Philippines.

The claimants to sovereignty have not awarded offshore concessions in the islands for fear of provoking an immediate clash. Foreign companies have not made any commitments to explore the area until the territorial dispute is settled or the claimants come to terms on joint development.

An additional motive is the region’s role as one of the world’s most productive areas for commercial fishing. In 1988, for example, the South China Sea accounted for eight percent of the total world catch, a figure which has certainly risen. The PRC has predicted that the South China Sea holds combined fishing and oil and gas resources worth one trillion dollars. There have already been numerous clashes between the Philippines and other nations — particularly the PRC — over foreign fishing vessels in its EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and the media regularly report the arrest of Chinese fishermen.

The region is also one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. During the 1980s, at least two hundred and seventy ships passed through the Spratly Islands region each day, and currently more than half of the world’s supertanker traffic, by tonnage, passes through the region’s waters every year. Tanker traffic through the South China Sea is over three times greater than through the Suez Canal and five times more than through the Panama Canal; twenty five percent of the world’s crude oil passes through the South China Sea.

There have been suggestions that the PRC has annexed and occupied islands not for resource exploitation but rather for surveillance. For example, Mischief Reef would be an ideal site from which to observe United States naval vessels traveling through western Philippine waters. The PRC’s occupation of the islands may be also be aimed at opposing the ROC rather than the Philippines as the Spratlys lie across water essential to the ROC. It could also simply be part of the PRC’s efforts to announce its solidifying regional hegemony.

There have been occasional naval clashes over the Spratly Islands. In 1974, after South Vietnam had allowed Western oil companies to explore the Paracel Islands, the PRC reacted by seizing control of them following a short naval battle; in 1988, China similarly annexed another six islets in a region otherwise controlled by Vietnam. An incident involving a civilian vessel occurred on April 10, 1983, when a German yacht was fired on and sunk. No responsibility has yet been indicated for this action.

In response to growing concerns by coastal states regarding encroachments by foreign vessels on their natural resources, the United Nations convened the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982 to determine the issue of international sea boundaries. In response to these concerns, it was resolved that a coastal state could claim two hundred nautical miles of jurisdiction beyond its land boundaries. However UNCLOS failed to address the issue of how to adjudicate on overlapping claims and so the future of the islands remains clouded.

In 1984, Brunei established an exclusive fishing zone encompassing Louisa Reef in the southern Spratly Islands, but has not publicly claimed the island. Then, in 1988, the PRC and Vietnam again clashed at sea over possession of Johnson Reef in the Spratlys. Chinese gunboats sank Vietnamese transport ships supporting a landing party of Vietnamese soldiers. The two countries normalized relations in 1991 and President Jiang Zemin subsequently made two trips to Vietnam, but the two nations remain at loggerheads over the Spratlys’ future.

In 1992, the PRC and Vietnam granted oil exploration contracts to U.S. oil companies that covered overlapping areas in the Spratlys; and in May 1992, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Crestone Energy (a U.S. company based in Denver, Colorado) signed a cooperation contract for the joint exploration of the Wan’an Bei-21 block, a 25,155 km² section of the southwestern South China Sea that includes Spratly Island areas. CNOOC was to provide seismic and other data regarding the seabed in the contract area, while Crestone agreed to cover all costs and conduct follow-up seismic surveys and drilling in the area. The contract was extended in 1999 after Crestone failed to complete the exploration. Part of the Crestone’s contract covered Vietnam’s blocks 133 and 134, where PetroVietnam and ConocoPhillips Vietnam Exploration & Production, a unit of ConocoPhillips, agreed to evaluate prospects in April 1992. This led to a confrontation between China and Vietnam, with each demanding that the other cancel its contract.

Further escalation occurred in early 1995 when the Philippines discovered a primitive PRC military structure on Mischief Reef, one hundred and thirty nautical miles off the coast of Palawan. This prompted the Philippines government to issue a formal protest over the PRC occupation of the reef and the Philippine navy to arrest sixty-two Chinese fishermen at Half Moon Shoal, eighty kilometres from Palawan. A week later, following confirmation from surveillance pictures that the structures were of military design, then Philippine President Fidel Ramos ordered military forces in the region strengthened. The PRC had claimed that the structures were shelters for fishermen.

Following this dispute an ASEAN-brokered agreement was reached between the PRC and ASEAN member nations whereby a nation would inform the others of any military movement within the disputed territory and that there would be no further construction. The agreement was promptly violated by the PRC and Malaysia. Claiming storm damage, seven PRC naval vessels entered the area to repair “fishing shelters” in Panganiban Reef. Malaysia erected a structure on Investigator Shoal and landed at Rizal Reef, both places situated within the Philippines EEZ. In response the Philippines lodged formal protests, demanded the removal of the structures, increased naval patrols in Kalayaan and issued invitations to American politicians to inspect the PRC bases by plane.

By 1998, as the PRC continued its creeping annexation of the islands, placing sovereignty markers or buoys on First and Second Thomas Shoals, Pennsylvania Shoal, Half Moon Shoal and the Sabina and Jackson atolls, the Spratly Islands area was listed as one of eight flashpoints[citation needed] for conflict in the world. By late 1998, PRC bases had surrounded the Philippines’ outposts. A British Royal Navy Commander analyzed pictures of the Chinese structures and announced that PRC “appeared to be preparing for war”[citation needed]. The relationship between Manila and Beijing had deteriorated to the point where war seemed imminent.

In the early 21st century, as part of foreign policy initiatives known as the “new security concept” and “China’s peaceful rise”, the PRC became much less confrontational about the Spratly Islands. The PRC recently held talks with ASEAN countries aimed at realizing a proposal for a free trade area between the ten countries involved. The PRC and ASEAN also have been engaged in talks to create a code of conduct aimed at easing tensions in the disputed islands. On 5 March 2002, an agreement was reached, setting forth the desire of the claimant nations to resolve the problem of sovereignty “without further use of force”[citation needed]. In November 2002, a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed, easing tensions but falling short of a legally-binding code of conduct.

People’s Republic of China claims on the Spratly Islands

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) bases its claim to the islands on historical grounds. They state that the Spratly Islands have been an integral part of China for nearly two thousand years and point to ancient manuscripts claiming to refer to the Spratly Islands and remains of Chinese pottery and coins on the islands as proof. Using this argument, the PRC states that the Philippines have taken 410,000 square kilometres of its traditional maritime boundary, having taken advantage of the PRC’s poor condition during its exile from international affairs, but some analysts question these claims.

However, many official records and maps dating back to Han Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty, Qing Dynasty and Republic of China did include the Spratly Islands in Chinese territory. (See the Chinese version of this page for document details and dates). However, these same maps also claim the northern Philippine archipelago, Palawan, Vietnam, Korea, Malaysia among others. If China’s can claim the Spratly Islands on such grounds then they should do so with these other countries, making the argument somewhat absurd. In addition, China claimed these areas more as protectorates rather than as a true part of China since they still had their own kingdoms and governments.

Philippine claims on the Spratly Islands

While the Philippine claim to the Spratly Islands was first expressed in the United Nations General Assembly in 1946, Philippine involvement in the Spratly’s did not begin in earnest until 1956, when on 15 May Philippine citizen Tomas Cloma proclaimed the founding of a new state, Kalayaan (Freedom Land). Cloma’s Kalayaan encompassed fifty three features spread throughout the eastern South China Sea, including Spratly Island proper, Itu Aba, Pag-asa and Nam Yit Islands, as well as West York Island, North Danger Reef, Mariveles Reef and Investigator Shoal. Cloma then established a protectorate in July 1956 with Pag-asa as its capital and Cloma as “Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Kalayaan State”. This action, although not officially endorsed by the Philippine government, was considered by other claimant nations as an act of aggression by the Philippines and international reaction was swift. Taiwan, the PRC, South Vietnam, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands lodged official protests (the Netherlands on the premise that it considered the Spratly Islands part of Dutch New Guinea) and Taiwan sent a naval task force to occupy the islands and establish a base on Itu Aba, which it retains to the present day.

Tomas Cloma and the Philippines continued to state their claims over the islands; in October 1956 Cloma traveled to New York to plead his case before the United Nations and the Philippines had troops posted on three islands by 1968 on the premise of protecting Kalayaan citizens. In early 1971 the Philippines sent a diplomatic note on behalf of Cloma to Taipei demanding the ROC’s withdrawal from Itu Aba and on 10 July in the same year Ferdinand Marcos announced the annexation of the 53 island group known as Kalayaan, although since neither Cloma or Marcos specified which fifty three features constituted Kalayaan, the Philippines began to claim as many features as possible. In April of 1972 Kalayaan was officially incorporated into Palawan province and was administered as a single “poblacion” (township), with Tomas Cloma as the town council Chairman and by 1992, there were twelve registered voters on Kalayaan. The Philippines also reportedly attempted to land troops on Itu Aba in 1977 to occupy the island but were repelled by ROC troops stationed on the island. There were no reports of casualties from the conflict. In 2005, a cellular phone base station was erected by the Philippines’ Smart Communications on Pag-asa Island.

The Philippines base their claims of sovereignty over the Spratly’s on the issues of res nullius and geography. The Philippines contend Kalayaan was res nullius as there was no effective sovereignty over the islands until the 1930s when France and then Japan acquired the islands. When Japan renounced their sovereignty over the islands in the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, there was a relinquishment of the right to the islands without any special beneficiary. Therefore, argue the Philippines, the islands became res nullius and available for annexation. Philippine businessman Tomas Cloma did exactly that in 1956 and while the Philippines never officially supported Cloma’s claim, upon transference of the islands’ sovereignty from Cloma to the Philippines, the Philippines used the same sovereignty argument as Cloma did. The Philippine claim to Kalayaan on geographical bases can be summarized using the assertion that Kalayaan is distinct from other island groups in the South China Sea because:

It is a generally accepted practice in oceanography to refer to a chain of islands through the name of the biggest island in the group or through the use of a collective name. Note that Spratly (island) has an area of only 13 hectares compared to the 22 hectare area of the Pag-asa Island. Distance-wise, Spratly Island is some 210nm off Pag-asa Islands. This further stresses the argument that they are not part of the same island chain. The Paracels being much further (34.5nm northwest of Pag-asa Island) is definitely a different group of islands

A second argument used by the Philippines regarding their geographical claim over the Spratly’s is that all the islands claimed by the Philippines lie within their archipelagic baselines, the only claimant who can make such a statement. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stated that a coastal state could claim two hundred nautical miles of jurisdiction beyond its land boundaries. It is perhaps telling that while the Philippines is a signatory to UNCLOS, the PRC and Vietnam are not. The Philippines also argue, under Law of the Sea provisions, that the PRC can not extend its baseline claims to the Spratly’s because the PRC is not an archipelagic state. Whether this argument (or any other used by the Philippines) would hold up in court is debatable but possibly moot, as the PRC and Vietnam seem unwilling to legally substantiate their claims and have rejected Philippine challenges to take the dispute to the World Maritime Tribunal in Hamburg.

The South China Sea is defined by the International Hydrographic Bureau as the body of water stretching in a Southwest to Northeast direction, whose southern border is 3 degrees South latitude between South Sumatra and Kalimantan (Karimata Straits), and whose northern border is the Strait of Taiwan from the northern tip of Taiwan to the Fukien coast of China. The South China Sea region is the world’s second busiest international sea lane. More than half of the world’s supertanker traffic passes through the region’s waters. In addition, the South China Sea region contains oil and gas resources strategically located near large energy-consuming countries.

The South China Sea encompasses a portion of the Pacific Ocean stretching roughly from Singapore and the Strait of Malacca in the southwest, to the Strait of Taiwan (between Taiwan and China) in the northeast. The area includes more than 200 small islands, rocks, and reefs, with the majority located in the Paracel and Spratly Island chains. The Spratlys links the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. All its islands are coral, low and small, about 5 to 6 meters above water, spread over 160,000 to 180,000 square kilometers of sea zone (or 12 times that of the Paracels), with a total land area of 10 square kilometers only. The Paracels also has a total land area of 10 square kilometers spread over a sea zone of 15,000 to 16,000 square kilometers.

Many of these islands are partially submerged islets, rocks, and reefs that are little more than shipping hazards not suitable for habitation. The islands are important, however, for strategic and political reasons, because ownership claims to them are used to bolster claims to the surrounding sea and its resources.

The South China Sea is rich in natural resources such as oil and natural gas. These resources have garnered attention throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Until recently, East Asia’s economic growth rates had been among the highest in the world, and despite the current economic crisis, economic growth prospects in the long-term remain among the best in the world. This economic growth will be accompanied by an increasing demand for energy. Over the next 20 years, oil consumption among developing Asian countries is expected to rise by 4% annually on average, with about half of this increase coming from China. If this growth rate is maintained, oil demand for these nations will reach 25 million barrels per day – more than double current consumption levels — by 2020.

Almost of all of this additional Asian oil demand, as well as Japan’s oil needs, will need to be imported from the Middle East and Africa, and to pass through the strategic Strait of Malacca into the South China Sea. Countries in the Asia-Pacific region depend on seaborne trade to fuel their economic growth, and this has led to the sea’s transformation into one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Over half of the world’s merchant fleet (by tonnage) sails through the South China Sea every year. The economic potential and geopolitical importance of the South China Sea region has resulted in jockeying between the surrounding nations to claim this sea and its resources for themselves.

Military skirmishes have occurred numerous times in the past two decades. The most serious occurred in 1976, when China invaded and captured the Paracel Islands from Vietnam, and in 1988, when Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed at Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands, sinking several Vietnamese boats and killing over 70 sailors.

The disputed areas often involve oil and gas resources:

  • Indonesia’s ownership of the gas-rich Natuna Island group was undisputed until China released an official map indicating that the Natunas were in Chinese-claimed waters.
    The Philippines’ Malampaya and Camago natural gas and condensate fields are in Chinese-claimed waters.
  • Many of Malaysia’s natural gas fields located offshore Sarawak also fall under the Chinese claim.
  • Vietnam and China have overlapping claims to undeveloped blocks off the Vietnamese coast. A block referred to by the Chinese as Wan’ Bei-21 (WAB-21) west of the Spratly Islands is claimed by the Vietnamese in their blocks 133, 134, and 135. In addition, Vietnam’s Dai Hung (Big Bear) oil field is at the boundary of waters claimed by the Chinese.
  • Maritime boundaries in the gas-rich Gulf of Thailand portion of the South China Sea have not been clearly defined. Several companies have been signed exploration agreements but have been unable to drill in a disputed zone between Cambodia and Thailand.
  • Most of these claims are historical, but they are also based upon internationally accepted principles extending territorial claims offshore onto a country’s continental shelf, as well as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    The 1982 convention created a number of guidelines concerning the status of islands, the continental shelf, enclosed seas, and territorial limits. Three of the most relevant to the South China Sea are:

  • Article 3, which establishes that “every state has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles”;
  • Articles 55 – 75 define the concept of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is an area up to 200 nautical miles beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea. The EEZ gives coastal states “sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to” (above) “the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil…”
  • Article 121, which states that rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
  • The establishment of the EEZ created the potential for overlapping claims in semi-enclosed seas such as the South China Sea. These claims could be extended by any nation which could establish a settlement on the islands in the region. South China Sea claimants have clashed as they tried to establish outposts on the islands (mostly military) in order to be in conformity with Article 121 in pressing their claims.

    In mid-1991, fresh from diplomatic success in helping to end the Cambodian civil war, Indonesia took the initiative in seeking to open multilateral negotiations on competitive South China Sea claims, especially those claims involving jurisdictional disputes over the Spratly Islands. Indonesia has taken a leading role in diplomatic initiatives and cooperative agreements to resolve South China Sea issues, particularly through the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) forum, which has called for the peaceful arbitration of territorial claims. ASEAN includes all South China Sea nations except for China and Taiwan, and has held a number of working groups with China and Taiwan on related issues that have the potential to foster the cooperation and friendship needed to resolve the more contentious issues in the region. Indonesia hosted the first of these workshops in 1990. The ASEAN foreign ministers have reiterated the invitations to all parties directly concerned to subscribe to the principles of the ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea.

    In late 1998 the presidents of China and the Philippines agreed to form a committee of experts to advise on confidence-building measures.

    In late November 1999 officials of ASEAN agreed to draft a regional code of conduct to prevent conflicts over the Spratly Islands in advance of the ASEAN summit in Manila. The Philippines, which drafted much of the proposed code, sought to align ASEAN’s members in a common stance against what it saw as Chinese expansionism in the Spratlys. China agreed to hold talks with ASEAN member nations on the newly formulated draft code of conduct. But China, which claims the entire South China Sea, signalled it was not ready to agree to the ASEAN draft. Vietnam wanted the code to cover the Paracels while Malaysia did not want the code to refer to all of the South China Sea. China, which is not an ASEAN member and claims all of the islands, opposed inclusion of the Paracels in the code. Australia pressed for the proposed code to include a moratorium on the occupation of reefs and atolls or building on them.

    In January 2000 photographs of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands were shown to the foreign ministers of the other eight ASEAN countries by Philippine foreign minister, Domingo Siazon. The photographic evidence showed that China had expanded installations on the reef since 1995, when it first started building what it said were shelters for fishermen. There are now four sites on the reef with installations that could be connected to form a fortress, like Gibraltar, or a five-star hotel for fishermen.

    Southeast Asian countries, concerned that Beijing might be strengthening its claim to much of the South China Sea, called for restraint and strict observance of international law in a high-level meeting with China in January 2000.

    On 04 November 2002 the Governments of the Member States of ASEAN and the Government of the People’s Republic of China signed the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.” The Parties undertook to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.

    China and the Philippines have discussed possible joint exploration for petroleum in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives, Jose de Venecia, said the chairman of China’s parliament, Wu Bannguo, made the proposal 31 August 2003 during talks in Manila. China also pledged to increase investment in the Philippines. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing vowed to increase investments in the Philippines to match the growing Philippine investment in China. The two ministers also discussed the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

    In September 2003 representatives of the Philippines, China and other claimant countries of the Spratly Islands signed a declaration of peace to promote the development of the resources in the disputed islands. The declaration was signed at the Asian Association of Parliaments for Peace (AAPP) conference in the Philippines.

    In March 2005, the national oil companies of China, the Philippines, and Vietnam signed a joint accord to conduct marine seismic experiments in the Spratly Islands for economic purposes.

    Suggested confidence-building measures among claimant countries include joint research and development in the Spratlys. Among the suggestions to enhance the development of the Spratly Islands include the creation of a marine park; establishment of a South China Sea Institute for Marine Resources Management, conducting a joint survey and assessment of the mineral and hydrocarbon potential and implementation of maritime safety and surveillance measures.

    SOUTH CHINA SEA TERRITORIAL ISSUES

    Competing territorial claims over the South China Sea and its resources are numerous, with the most contentious revolving around the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands (the Xisha and the Nansha in Chinese; the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa in Vietnamese). The Spratlys are claimed in total by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, whereas Malaysia laid claim to parts of the continental shelf underlying the southernmost islands in the chain. Indeed, ownership of virtually all of the South China Sea is contested. The disputed islands in the South China Sea assumed importance only after it was disclosed that they were near the potential sites of substantial offshore oil deposits.

    In 1939 the Japanese military government announced its decision to take possession of the Spratlys. France protested on 04 April 1939 when Japan announced it had placed the Spratlys “under its jurisdiction.” In 1941 Japan forcibly took over the islands as part of its World War II strategy. During the War, France defended the Spratlys from Japanese military forces. In 1949 Vietnam “inherited” from France all former French rights over the Paracel Islands and the Spratlys Islands. Vietnam emphasizes “actual exercise of sovereignty over mere geographic contiguity” as a basic ground for its claim. In the 1951 “San Francisco Peace Treaty” Japan relinquished all titles and claims to the Paracel Islands and the Spratlys Islands. From 1956 to 1963, Vietnamese naval troops built “sovereignty steles” in the Spratlys.

    The most proactive claimant in the region is China. In 1909 it seized some islands in Xisha (the Paracels). In 1946 it seized Itu Aba (in the Spratlys) and Phu Lan Island (in the Paracels). In 1950’s China seized additional Hoang Sa (Paracels) islands, which it forcibly repeated in 1974. Vietnam claims that these acts were unlawful and that the United States in 1974 conspired with China for the take-over of the Paracels.

    In January 1974, Chinese military units seized islands in the Paracels occupied by South Vietnamese armed forces, and Beijing claimed sovereignty over the Spratlys. Following their conquest of South Vietnam in the spring of 1975, units of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) nevertheless moved to occupy the Spratly Islands previously held by the Saigon regime. In 1978 Vietnam and the Philippines agreed to negotiate but failed to settle their conflicting claims to the Spratly Islands. Foreign Minister Thach, during a late-1982 visit to Indonesia, took a conciliatory position in discussing Vietnam’s and Indonesia’s competing claims to the Natuna Islands, and in 1984 Hanoi made a similar gesture to Malaysia in order to help resolve their conflicting claims over Amboyna Cay.

    In a 1988 incident, possibly related to Cambodia because it potentially strengthened China’s position at a future bargaining table, the ongoing dispute between China and Vietnam over sovereignty to the Spratly Islands erupted into an unprecedented exchange of hostilities. The situation was reduced to an exchange of accusations following the armed encounter. Vietnam’s repeated calls for China to settle the dispute diplomatically won rare support for Vietnam from the international community, but elicited little response from Beijing. A conciliatory mood developed on both sides of the Sino- Vietnamese border in 1989, partly because Vietnam’s proposal to withdraw completely from Cambodia responded to a basic Chinese condition for improved relations.

    mischiefreef150.jpg
    Mischief Reef is part of the Spratly Islands. Mischief Reef was discovered by Henry Spratly in 1791 and named by the German Sailor Heribert Mischief, one of his crew. China has sent naval vessels into the area and has constructed crude buildings on some of the islands. Beijing maintains that the shacks are there solely to serve Chinese fishing boats. Manila describes the buildings as “military-type” structures. According to reconnaissance photos by the Philippine Air Force, these structures do not look like fishermen’s sanctuaries. They seem to have radar systems which are not normally associated with the protection of fishermen.

    Itu Aba Island is used by Taiwan, ROC fishermen as a rest stop. Itu Aba Island is located at the northwest end of the northern part of the Spratly Archipelago near the Cheng Ho Reefs (Tizard Bank). In 1938 the Indochina Meteorological Service set up a weather station on Itu-Aba island which remained under French control from 1938 to 1941. When World War II erupted in 1941 Japan took control of said weather station.

    On 08 June 1956 Taiwan sent troops to occupy Thai Binh Island (Itu Aba – Peace Island), the largest island in the Spratlys. Vietnam claims that “as late as December 1973, the Far Eastern Economic Review of Hongkong reported that a marker still stood there with the inscription: ‘France – Ile Itu Aba et Dependences – 10 Aout 1933.” The northwestern part of the Tizard Bank consists of Itu Aba in the west, Center Cay in the center, and on the east side Sand Cay, all claimed by Taiwan since 1955.

    Since the end of World War Two, the ROC navy has guarded the island for over fifty years; they have a major responsibility to ensure the security of the South China Sea. A Taiwan, ROC garrison is stationed on Itu Aba on a permanent basis, making the building of roads and military installations an important task. As a result, the island now has well-built roads, and the soldiers keep it as clean as a well-kept park.

    The the Kalayaan Islands, as Filipinos call some of the Spratlys, lie in a shallow section of the South China Sea west of the Philippine archipelago. Kalayaan is a rich fishing area that had been identified as a potential source of petroleum deposits. Tomas Cloma, a Manila lawyer, visited the islands in 1956, claimed them for himself, named them Kalayaan (Freedomland), then asked the Philippine government to make them a protectorate.

    Vietnam brands as erroneous the Philippine theory that the Spratly Islands were “res nullius” when Tomas Cloma “pretended to ‘discover’ the Vietnamese Truong Sa islands in 1956”. Manila regularly tried to extract from the United States a declaration that it would defend the Philippines’ claim to the Kalayaans as part of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America, but the United States just as regularly refused so to interpret that treaty.

    The Philippine government first put forth informal claims to Kalayaan in the mid-1950s. Philippine troops were sent to three of the islands in the Kalayaans in 1968, taking advantage of the war situation in the Republic of Vietnam. In 1974, the Philippine government declared that it had garrisoned five of the islands. In 1978 Marcos made formal claims by declaring that fifty-seven of the islands were part of Palawan Province by virtue of their presence on the continental margin of the archipelago. The Philippine military continued to garrison marines on several islands.

    Layang Layang (Swallow’s Reef, although there are no swallows present) is a small reef in the Spratly Islands, and is currently operated and managed by the government of Malaysia. Swallow Reef is the only reef in Swallow Atoll, which is exposed to the sea. The island is long and narrow, stretching from the northeast to the southwest. It is small in area, around 0.1 square kilometers.

    The amazing fact about Swallow Reef is that this tiny, exposed islet was practically man-made! It was built by the Malaysian government, which collected sand and connected two isolated reefs by filling the channel between them. The Malaysian government opted to build an airstrip, dive resort and military installation on this reef since in 1983. Seventy soldiers live on this island and the dive resort is open to any visiting scuba divers. Swallow Reef is fast hecoming another of Malaysia’s premier dive destination.

    The Spratly Islands dispute eased since the 1990s. This was due, in part, to China’s rising economic stature and the interdependency it, in turn, fostered amongst Asian nations. China knows that any crisis in the South China Sea could severely restrict the commercial shipping traffic that is vital to their continued prosperity. Another contributor to the relative calm is fact that proven oil reserves in the area are disappointingly low.

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    Comments

    1. benjie estuche - philadelphia says:

      “Spratley Islands 101” is a good reading on how to make peace with one’s neighbors instead of the useless blah-blah-blahs that we get from the Senate Investigations.

      Under the Constitution of the Philippines, previous and present, the Senate (Upper House of congress) is tasked to ratify treaties and international pacts entered into by the Executive Branch of the Government with other countries.

      Qouted from the above article is the following:

      “In March 2005, the national oil companies of China, the Philippines, and Vietnam signed a joint accord to conduct marine seismic experiments in the Spratly Islands for economic purposes.

      “Suggested confidence-building measures among claimant countries include joint research and development in the Spratlys. Among the suggestions to enhance the development of the Spratly Islands include the creation of a marine park; establishment of a South China Sea Institute for Marine Resources Management, conducting a joint survey and assessment of the mineral and hydrocarbon potential and implementation of maritime safety and surveillance measures.”

      That the Philippine Senate failed to ratify these agreement between the national oil companies of the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam and the Philippines, clearly show that these IDIOTS OF THE PHILIPPINE CONGRESS do not know what is supposed to be their job.

      Instead of investigating almost anything that the Executive Dept. and other government entities, including the Manila Film Festival Scandal, it is suggested that members of the Philippine Congress (both Senate and the Lower House) hold a special joint session on International Diplomacy and Constitutional Law on the disputed islands and while they are there, let us pray that a storm will wipe both houses away from the face of the earth.

      A pastoral letter from the CBCP to this effect would be greatly appreciated. Amen.

    2. johnyvez15 says:

      sa tingin ko ang bansang dapat na may rights on getting the spratly island is the philippine nation, kasi mas malapit sa tin yun kesa china o vietnam….

      in short tayo dapat ang mag explore dun eh tayu, kasi tayu unang nagtalaga na spratly islands is on philippines…

      wat do you think kung ang mga NPA at Abu Sayaf eh tumira/idistino ng government dun(spratly islands)???

    3. john chaleve nathan says:

      very well said but based on my research about claiming the spratly island by the philippines, at first we are the one who claimed it personally,kaya walang pakialam sa atin ang china at vietnam also including the america, kasi sabi sa philippine constitution na ang layo mula sa tip of the land in north and tip of the soil in south,likewise the tip of the soil from west and east,15 miles away,towards the seabed where occupied by the philippines. and you can see that on our philippine constitution.

      Ang masasabi ko lang ngayon dapat asikasuhin ng pangulong gloria macapagal arroyo ang isyung ito nang hindi tayo masakop at sumailalim na naman sa mga colonialistic na mga bansa.

      For you to understand more please read this one:

      Manila, Philippines — Six Asian countries claim the Spratly Islands — China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Disputes among these six parties have led to various minor military skirmishes, the detention of fisherfolk and diplomatic rows in the past three decades.

      Control of the Spratlys is important since the region is supposed to contain large deposits of oil, gas, hydrocarbon and mineral resources. The islands are also strategically located in the sea lanes for commerce and transport in the South China Sea.

      The Spratlys consist of about 26 islands and islets and 7 groups of rocks in the South China Sea found approximately between the latitude of 4 degrees to 11 degrees 30’N. and longitude 109 degrees 30’E. They have a maritime area of 160,000 square kilometers and an insular area of about 170 hectares.

      The Spratlys are popular among fishermen. However, they are considered dangerous for commercial navigation. Maps from the early part of the last century have advised seamen to avoid passing through them.

      Japan explored the Spratlys for military reasons during World War II. The British Admiralty and U.S. Navy have also ordered some top secret missions there. But the U.S. Navy never released the new charts of the Spratlys to civilian authorities. Writer Francois-Xavier Bonnet wonders about the role of the Spratlys during the Vietnam War.

      In 1933 a Philippine senator protested the French annexation of the Spratlys. A parliamentary committee studied the issue but the U.S. government, which controlled the Philippines at that time, did not take an interest in the matter.

      In 1946 Vice President Elpidio Quirino claimed the Spratlys on behalf of the Philippine government. A year later, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs declared that the “New Southern Islands” previously occupied by Japan during World War II were part of Philippine territory.

      In 1955 the Philippine military reported that the Spratly island group was of “vital proximity” to the country. The following year, Filipino navigator and businessman Tomas Cloma issued a “proclamation to the whole world” claiming ownership and occupation of the Spratlys. Cloma sent six letters to the government about the need to settle the question of ownership of the islands.

      The vice president of the Philippines replied in 1957, assuring Cloma that the government “does not regard with indifference the economic exploitation and settlement of these uninhabited and unoccupied islands by Philippine nationals.”

      According to Filipino law professor Haydee Yorac, the Cloma Proclamation was the first assertion of title to the Spratlys after Japan renounced its ownership of the islands in 1951 and 1952.

      In 1978 President Ferdinand Marcos issued a proclamation declaring ownership of most of the islands in the Spratlys. The area was renamed the Kalayaan (Freedom) Island Group. The proclamation laid the following basis for the Philippine claim: “By virtue of their proximity and as part of the continental margin of the Philippine archipelago”; that “they do not legally belong to any state or nation, but by reason of history; indispensable need, and effective occupation and control established in accordance with international law”; and while other states have laid claims to some of these areas, their claims have lapsed by abandonment and cannot prevail over that of the Philippines on legal, historical, and equitable ground.”

      In 1995 President Fidel Ramos articulated the Philippine position regarding the Spratlys issue. He said “I would like to clarify that the Philippines does not only claim eight islands in the Spratlys but owns all islands and waters in the Spratlys as defined in the presidential decree issued by former President Marcos.”

      Militarization of the Spratlys started in the 1970s. The Philippines sent a military contingent to occupy some of the islands in 1971. After four years, the Philippines had already established a military presence in six islands. Today, the Philippines occupies eight islands in the area.

      The Philippine military insists it is ready to protect and assert Philippine sovereignty in the Spratlys at all costs. However, in the mid-1980s the Philippine defense secretary publicly recommended that the Philippines should give up its claim to the islands, since it had limited capacity to defend them.

      Prospects are dim for international bodies like the International Court of Justice, International Tribunal on the Law and the U.N. Charter to resolve the issue of ownership in the Spratlys. A military solution should be avoided since it would threaten the stability of the region and the world. The best approach should be the forging of bilateral and multilateral agreements among claimants.

      Retired Philippine Ambassador Rodolfo A. Arizala has proposed the following options to peacefully settle the Spratlys dispute: Antarctic type of treaty, joint administration and co-imperium or condominium.

      The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by 12 countries which agreed to “freeze” their claims on the Antarctic Territories for the duration of the treaty. In the meantime, the claimants vowed to work for the development of new international legal arrangements to settle the dispute and the launching of scientific and cooperative activities in the region.

      Co-imperium or condominium refers to joint rights of administration. Condominium, in particular, covers the right to dispose of a territory.

      In 2004 the Philippines, Vietnam and China signed the controversial “Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in Certain Areas in the South China Sea.” The agreement excluded other claimants in the region. The agreement also covered many islands in the Spratlys which are claimed only by the Philippines. Opposition politicians are accusing the Philippine president of having committed treason.

      Is the “Joint Undertaking” the proper way to resolve the issue of ownership in the Spratlys? Dialogue among all parties should be continued. Cooperative activities should be pursued. But these approaches should all be done in a transparent manner.

      ngayon alam mo na siguro kung ano ang pinagsasabi ko ngayon!!!

      damn all foreign countries have your own island!!!!!

      please add me to your friendster

      http://www.friendster.com/johnchalevenathan

      ATENISTANG MALUPIT!!!!!!!!!!!!MABUHAY ANG MGA ATENISTA!!!!!!!!!!!!

      from your cutiest VJ John Chaleve Nathan

    4. john chaleve nathan says:

      kaya sa mga makakbasa nito na pusong pilipino ipagtanggol natin ang ating karapatan at huwag padala sa matatamis na salita ng mga dayuhan, na ang tanging hangarin ay sakupin tayo kahit sa maliit na paraan lamang.

      BE NATIONALISTIC KAIBIGAN!!!!

      NO TO COLONIALISM!!!!!

      FIGHT FOR OUR RIGHT!!!!!!

      PAG-AARI NATIN TOH! WAG PABAYAAN MAPUNTA SA IBA, MINSAN NA TAYONG NAGING ALIPIN NG MAPANG-APING DAYUHAN, AYAW NA NATIN ITONG MAULIT PA!!!

      KAYA KILOS NA KAIBIGAN!!!!

    5. jaype ramos says:

      kailan pa tayo mag sasarili bkit tayo laging nag papalugi ganito ba tlaga ang pilipino mapag bigay sa kayamanan o ganito lang tayo dahil duwag ang ating gobyerno

    6. Stefan Thiesen says:

      As I see it nobody in fact can completely justify territorial claims for the spratleys. Geographically, there could be a dispute between Malaysia, Vietnam, perhaps Brunei and the Philippines, but I do not see how China earnestly could have a point here.

      Judging from the general condition of the world, the meager proven oil reserves probably are the main reason why the dispute “eased”. It isn’t worth the trouble. And in times of satellite surveillance the islands also largely lost their strategic relevance. In any case – why not start up a multi national corporation with equal investments and shared benefits? Cooperation cannot be that difficult – it has been done elsewhere…

    7. kenneth says:

      taulom ah

    8. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    9. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    10. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    11. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    12. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    13. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    14. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    15. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    16. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    17. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    18. […] Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, ?d, tr. 42. [195] Spratly Islands 101, 8 March 2008, The Pinoy, http://thepinoy.net/?p=1184. [196] See the translation of the Declaration of the Peoples’s Republic of China on the […]

    19. miko mabini says:

      walangya itong mga chinese na ito eh kitang kita naman sa mapa anlakilaki wala silang karapatan sa spratly islands. dapat sa kanila pagtulungon ng 4 na bansa kasama yung pilipinas eh. ganun ganun nalang ba dapat tayo para payangang sabihan ng ibang bansa dapat magising na ang mga pulitiko na yung mga perang kinukurakot nila dapat ay sa pondo ng bansa.at para sa military funds eh panu nalang pag sumabak na tayo sa giyera???

    20. Leah Bancoita says:

      hula ko lang wlang mangyayari dyan

    21. High School says:

      Have you considered adding some type of bookmarking buttons or links on websites?

    22. mukmok says:

      sa atin nga sana talaga yun kaso wala tayong magawa kasi wala tayong gamit pang gyera para protektahan yun, kung hindi lang sana corupt yung mga politika natin para makagawa din tayo ng mga gamit natin para protektahan yon eh.mga gamit kasi natin eh mga pinag-iwanan pa ng mga amerikano nung WW2kaya tianatawanan lang tayu ng mga vietnamese, chinese at malaysian.
      putang ina netong pilipinas punong puno ng mga corupt na opisyal tapos kung may gyera sila pa ang makaligtas kasi sila ang nasa likod ng mga sundalo natin, ay putang ina…..

    23. sana pagtusan ng pansin ng ating gobyerno ang siguridad ng mga sundalong Pilipinong naka assign sa spratly sana mabilihan sila ng bagong kagamitang pangdigma:)

    24. sahaira marcelo says:

      so knino n spratlys? hm..ge knila n talo nnmn pinas plgi nlng ..mmtay nlng silang dilat na patuloy pa din nag-aagawan sa isang island na dapat ay s pilipinas tlaga..

    25. lito tolentino says:

      walang karapatan ang pinas dian kasi late 1950s lang tayo involve dian nung binisita ni rearadmiral cloma. samantalang ang china at vietnam e matagal nang panahon na inaangkin nila ang mga islang yan

    26. Lorenzo Cruz says:

      hindi totoo na meager lang ang gas and oil reserve diyan sa spratlys, bakit pinag aagawan pa kung konti ang isip isip mga ka tribo.

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