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Juan Paulo M.

LIT127.2- B

Philippines vs. China Territorial Dispute

The battle between the two Asian countries regarding the West Philippine Sea have
been an ongoing issue since the start of the decade and the buzz about the issue still exists
even up to now. It is a conflict that not necessarily tackles the issue of whether or not one
country should have it over the other in a territorial perspective, but rather how one country
can dominate the other and exercise its power through the naming and claiming of the
territory that the other should have despite its legitimate claims over the land of interest.

To provide a brief background regarding the issue, it all started when Japan had to
renounce its claim over the Spratly Islands in accordance to the terms set by the Treaty of San
Francisco and Treaty of Peace the Republic of China. The problem that appeared when Japan
renounce its claim is that it was not able to state the island’s proper successor. The
Philippines, due to it being the country nearest to the islands in question, was able to claim
the land for their own with the jurisdiction being placed under Palawan. This is where China
comes in to present its own claim for the island. China’s claim for the West Philippine is built
upon China having historic rights to the resources in the water backed up by the 1947 9-
dashed Lines Map of China entitled “Location Map of the South Sea Islands.” China did not
specify what the 9-dashed means, but it claims that it is the reason why they should have
jurisdiction over the islands. There have been numerous controversial issues regarding
China’s actions with regards to the forceful claiming of the islands. One such issue is when
the Chinese frigate (a type of warship) called Dongguan fired shots against Philippine fishing
boats for being near the vicinity of the islands. The actions being done by the Philippines,
however, were more peaceful/controlled as the country decided to take the case into
arbitration under the care of the Permanent Court of Arbitration which we would soon later
find out to be useless as it was disregarded by the Asian giant.

This is where the importance of maps, as stated in the “Allegories of Atlas”, comes in
with regards to the claiming of lands. China refused to join the proceedings held by the court
and their stubbornness reached a point where they even released their own map with an added
10th dash in Taiwan’s territory, claiming that this dash was part of the country’s “natural”
borders. The line was crossed when China did such shameful action and the two countries
started taking defensive stances in preparation for an upcoming economic war, for the lack of
a better term, as the two countries strengthened their military power, allied with stronger
countries (the United States for the Philippines), and imposed fishing bans on one another to
assume dominance over the islands and sea.

China’s second defense, after the “historic rights” shamble, was that it claims that the
9-dash line, which was essentially what’s hindering China’s claim over the sea, had no basis
under the international law as its main purpose is simply to show until where China’s claim
with respect to the land, seas, and their geographical location ends. The Philippines’ response
was that the 9-dash line had no grounds under UNCLOS as the convention only acknowledge

With this, China’s third defense is that “rocks” are not capable of generating
entitlements beyond 12 nautical miles, while some do not even generate any at all. The
question of overlapping EEZ’s was also brought about by the topic. However, Senior
Associate Justice Antonio Carpio stated that China has no overlapping EEZ’s within
Philippines EEZ and that China has no authority to change “rocks” into “islands.

China’s fourth defense states that “China has breached the convention by interfering
with the Philippines’ exercise of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction.” (Datu). This was
caused by the fishing ban imposed by China on the Philippines, but this was immediately
countered by UNCLOS’ decision of allowing exclusive fishing rights for the Philippines in
the West Philippine Sea.

China’s fifth and final defense was that it has “irreversibly damaged the regional
marine environment, in breach of UNCLOS, by its destruction of coral reefs in the South
China Sea, including areas within the Philippines’ EEZ, by its destructive and hazardous
fishing practices, and by its harvesting of endangered species” (Paterno). This irreversible
damages was allegedly caused by the artificial islands that China has established over the
West Philippine Sea. With this argument still being insufficient, the Permanent Court of
Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines on July 12.
If the issue is seen in the perspective of the author of “Allegories of Atlas”, Jose
Rabasa, I believe that he would say the same thing. It is not really about the territory itself
that China and the Philippines solely desires. It is more of the exhibition of their power and
control over the opposing country once the arbitration decides to rule in their favor. The fact
that a country has a certain location named after them does not concretely mean anything as it
is still, in the end, just the same location just called by a different name. As stated by Jose
Rabasa in his text, having the privilege to give an “undiscovered” country its name can bring
about great power to the country as naming is basically given the same weight as essentially
claiming the land for one’s own. In Rabasa’s perspective, he would see that the countries are
fighting against each other less for the utilization of the location for their own benefit, but
more for the dominance they would have over the losing side. What controls more is what
essentially has the overall power. The fact that China wants to assert itself as the next
“superpower”, this was the next move they had to take if they were to ensure that they get to
the top and stay there for their own good. As compared to Europe’s situation back then which
was filled with the thoughts and actions of imperialism and colonialism, they are essentially
opposite sides of the same coin. Both countries want to show their power through brute
forcing their way into the global scene by claiming the most land for their own, not thinking
about the welfare of those who actually has legitimate rights over the lands. With this concept
also being parallel to how people perceive the idea of third-world countries being useless in
the grand scheme of things as people think that they are useless, powerless, and requires the
need of another powerful country to sustain their economic and military needs.

The role of third-world countries in today’s global context has never been more
important and empowering. These countries were previously known as the countries that did
not matter in the bigger scheme of things as they were mostly seen relying on other powerful
countries, such as the United States for the case of the Philippines, for their economic and
military needs. The fact that the Philippines was able to overpower the legal rights of China
over the contested waters is a step towards the right direction for the supposedly “weaker”
country and it only has to make the right political, economic, and legal decisions in order to
ensure that it improves its stand in the international context. The Philippines has to learn to
fend for itself and not rely on the more powerful countries if it seeks to be one, itself, in the
future. Knowing what battles to fight and how to act when faced with important decisions are
two important factors to this that would lead to its success, but the most important step that
the country could take is learning to accept that it is, but a small archipelago in a giant map
surrounded by other countries that would seem threatening at first glance.

Datu, Randy V. "PH Fisherfolk: Living with Chinese Coastguards' Hostility." Rappler,
15 Mar. 2014, www.rappler.com/nation/53076-masinloc-fisherfolk-chinese-coastguards.
Accessed 31 Jan. 2018.

Esmaquel II, Paterno. "PH: China 'irreversibly Damaged' Environment." Rappler,

10 July 2015, www.rappler.com/nation/98796-philippines-china-environment-damage-hague.
Accessed 31 Jan. 2018.