Philippines' intrusion into China's Huangyan Island increases tensions
A China Coast Guard vessel performs patrol missions in the waters near Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, September 22, 2023. /CFP
A China Coast Guard vessel performs patrol missions in the waters near Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, September 22, 2023. /CFP

A China Coast Guard vessel performs patrol missions in the waters near Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, September 22, 2023. /CFP

Editor's note: Ding Duo, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is the deputy director and an associate research fellow of the Research Center for Ocean Law and Policy at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On October 10, a gunboat of the Philippine Navy intruded into the waters adjacent to Huangyan Island in the South China Sea. The China Coast Guard vessel took necessary measures to drive the Philippine ship away. Huangyan Island is a sensitive issue in China-Philippines relations. In essence, the Philippines has made a territorial claim to Huangyan Island beyond the limits of its territory, that violates the United Nations Charter and the basic norms of international relations.

China's sovereignty over Huangyan Island has been established throughout history. As part of the Zhongsha Islands, Huangyan Island was first discovered and named by China, which acquired its territorial sovereignty later on. During the 20th century, the Chinese government reviewed and published the names of the South China Sea Islands three times in 1935, 1947 and 1983, all of which reaffirmed and reconfirmed its territorial sovereignty over Huangyan Island. Over the past 30 years, the Chinese government allowed radio amateurs to land on the island four times – in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 2007 respectively – to conduct radio measurements.

When its sovereignty over Huangyan Island was confronted with outside challenges, China was forced to take measures to strengthen its exercise of sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction. It was against this backdrop that the Huangyan Island Incident occurred in 2012.

The island is located outside the territorial limits of the Philippines, which have been determined by a series of international treaties and have been repeatedly confirmed by Philippine domestic laws and U.S.-Philippine bilateral treaties. For a long time before 1997, the Philippines, either under the U.S. rule or independently, did not make a territorial claim to Huangyan Island, and even stated on more than one occasion that the island was not within its sovereign jurisdiction.

In 1990, Philippine Ambassador to Germany Bienvenido Tan Jr. made clear in his letter to German HAM radio amateur Dieter Loffler that according to the Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, "the Scarborough Reef" or Huangyan Island does not fall within the territorial sovereignty of the Philippines. In 1994, the Philippines' National Mapping and Resource Information Authority issued a document to the U.S. National Association for Amateur Radio, which confirmed the above statement.

In 1997, the Philippines abruptly departed from the above position and made an official territorial claim to China's Huangyan Island. Since then, it has adopted domestic legislations and issued official documents, looking for excuses and creating the basis for its change of position. This was more than half a century after the Chinese government first approved and published the name of Huangyan Island.

Sunset above the waters near Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, June 30, 2014. /CFP
Sunset above the waters near Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, June 30, 2014. /CFP

Sunset above the waters near Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, June 30, 2014. /CFP

The Philippines argued that Huangyan Island was within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone that it had claimed and was therefore part of Philippine territory. However, the rule of territorial acquisition by "proximity" does not exist in international law. A country cannot use its sovereign rights over resources to deny another country's territorial sovereignty, or to make territorial claims against another country. To do so would not only violate the principle of "the land dominates the sea" but would also violate the UN Charter and the basic norms of international law.

The Philippines also argued that it had "effective jurisdiction" over Huangyan Island. But no matter that there was a Philippines flag raised on the island in 1965 or that there was marine scientific research in a unspecified year, what it proves is not "effective jurisdiction" over Huangyan Island, but the violation of China's territorial sovereignty.

Taking a look at the Philippines' sovereignty claim over Huangyan Island since 1997, one will easily find its legal basis keeps shifting, without the necessary consistency and continuity, which are logically incoherent on many occasions. Perhaps this is because the Philippines wants to draw its conclusions first and then find the necessary evidence. It has to find excuses or make up a basis for its encroachment on China's Huangyan Island, even if these arguments are far-fetched or even absurd in terms of history, facts and jurisprudence.

Philippines' statements in recent years indicate its main concern is the livelihood of fishermen. Since the second half of 2016, the Chinese government and the Philippine government have reached consensus on the proper handling of the South China Sea arbitration case, so that it does not affect relations between the two countries, leading to the turn-around in their bilateral relations.

China has not made concessions on the sovereignty of Huangyan Island, but it has made goodwill arrangements for Filipino fishermen to fish in the waters near Huangyan Island out of the friendship and brotherhood between the two nations.

Recently, the Philippines has reduced its willingness to exercise self-restraint on the South China Sea issue and hyped up maritime development. The maritime tacit understanding that China and the Philippines had formed at the technical and operational levels was broken by the unilateral actions of the Philippines.

At a time when the risk of maritime friction is increasing, the Philippines should realize that it is the right way to properly manage differences and maintain maritime stability through the bilateral communication mechanism between China and the Philippines. Attempts to provoke infringement through paramilitary means, and pretending to be victims to deceive international perception, will only be counterproductive.

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