During the research stage while the Philippines was building up her case for the Hague trial on the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the French academic Francois Xavier Bonnet alerted then Associate Justice Antonio Carpio about a 1987 book that contained interesting annexes and editor’s notes. Carpio was able to secure a copy in a Beijing secondhand bookshop through a friend’s help.
The big catch in the book “Compilation of References on the Names of All Islands of Nan Hai,” published by the Committee of Place Names of Guangdong Province, contained supposedly confidential information that was mistakenly included in the publication as an annex by a lowly clerk.
The interesting reveal talked about a 1937 mission of Huang Qiang, chief of a Chinese military region. The Kuomintang Government sent him to the Paracels supposedly to check if the Japanese were invading the islands, and second, to assert Chinese soveriegnty on the islands. To assert sovereigny, it turned out, was to plant tablets with antedated inscriptions. Around 20 of them contained statements that an inspection by the Chinese took place in 1902.
This bit of anecdote is but a small part in the tome of evidence the Philippines used to fortify her claim over the West Philippine Sea, and indeed, our victory at the Hague renders any other narrative nothing but a bully’s tale. If anything, Huang Qiang’s mission launched early on the overarching farce that China throws around at the expense of its neighbors.
No small irony there that the recent incident of militia boat massing at the WPS took place at the Juan Felipe Reef, named after the great composer of the Philippine national anthem “Lupang Hinirang.”
This week, the Philippines and the US started its Balikatan Exercise, and although this time a scaled-down version of the previous drills, the US, on the other hand, had already launched a “cognitive warfare” over the weekend at the WPS by sending its USS Mustin, a guided-missile destroyer, that dwarfed China’s strike navy, the Liaoning group.
Any presence of foreign ships at the WPS is at once an affront to the Chinese Nine-Dash Line claim, its territorial demarcation that flexes its boundaries all the way to the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Needless to say that while the Philippines has the EEZ and sovereignty as her primary interests, the international community would rather see the deep open sea at the WPS as a free zone. Both the US and the European Union have trillions in US dollars to lose in in-bound and outbound trade at risk if status quo is not protected in the region. Sixty-five percent of the petroleum imports of South Korea, Japan and Taiwan pass through the WPS via the narrow straits of Malacca between Indonesia and Singapore.
Although China comes from a position of strength being the world’s new economic superpower, the international community can also mobilize to gain leverage over the WPS.
It is thus important that the Philippines continue to seek the help of other countries, to open the WPS for more naval activity if only to demonstrate before China its non-existent Nine-Dash Line.
Over the weekend in a Tweet, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Arbitral Award is “what cements the reefs and waters as ours,” and gave due credit to “PNoy, Del Rosario et al.”
“They had no allies; no support from other countries least of all Southeast Asia which tried to sabotage the Arbitral Award when they saw it coming.”
China, of course, will refuse to budge, its Philippine diplomats spouting claims that echo the good old farcical Huang Qiang mission.