News / Asia

Analysts: Maps Offer Minimal Basis to Assert Sovereignty in S. China Sea

In this photo taken by surveillance planes and released May 15, 2014 by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, a Chinese vessel, top center, is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, at the Spratly Islands at South China Sea, Philippines.
In this photo taken by surveillance planes and released May 15, 2014 by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, a Chinese vessel, top center, is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, at the Spratly Islands at South China Sea, Philippines.
Simone Orendain
Philippine officials say the military has recently spotted what it calls "reclamation activity" by China at several reefs it claims in the South China Sea. China has long-contended its “indisputable sovereignty” over practically the entire sea based on historical facts and maps. 

A Philippine Supreme Court justice is refuting China’s maps as the basis for its claims to about 90 percent of the South China Sea.  Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said they held little weight.

“China points to ancient Chinese maps as historical facts to claim the islands, rocks, reefs and waters within its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.  At the outset, we must stress that under international law a map per se does not constitute a territorial title or legal document to establish territorial rights.” said Carpio.

Carpio recommended that the Philippine government enter into international arbitration to question China’s U-shaped claim to the waters, as demarcated by nine-dashes.  

Carpio has been holding a series of lectures on the legal basis of the maritime claims of the Philippines and China in the South China Sea under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

During a talk in Manila this week, Carpio highlighted more than a dozen maps created by both Chinese and foreign cartographers from 1136 through the early 1930’s.

“All these ancient maps show that since the first Chinese maps appeared the southern-most territory of China has always been Hainan Island," said Carpio.
This map of China is from what is believed to be a stone rubbing from 1136 AD. Philippine Supreme Court Assoc. Justice Antonio Carpio used it as part of his presentation to show that until the early 1900's China consistently mapped out its southern-most border as Hainan Island in the South China Sea.
This map of China is from what is believed to be a stone rubbing from 1136 AD. Philippine Supreme Court Assoc. Justice Antonio Carpio used it as part of his presentation to show that until the early 1900's China consistently mapped out its southern-most border as Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

Francois-Xavier Bonnet is a geographer with the Bangkok-based Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia. He said by the early 1900’s, China had surveyed and included on its maps the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, which then became the southern-most border.  In the early 1930’s China countered a French claim of the Spratly Islands and then included them in a 1935 map.  This became the basis for the nine-dash demarcation of 1947 that is now the official map.

“For maps in international law, most of the maps are just information.  In fact, they give information for one period and it’s not a legal document,” he said.

The Philippines says China has intruded into its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone numerous times, while China has maintained “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the sea.  Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea, which is rich in marine life, is believed to have major hydrocarbon reserves and is a heavily traveled trade route.

In late March the Philippines submitted supporting documents for its arbitration case to a panel with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.  It calls China’s nine-dash line claim excessive.  The Permanent Court of Arbitration last month gave China until December 15 to submit countering materials, but China again reiterated its rejection of the arbitration.

Myron Nordquist of the Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia said maps and additional data should be seen as supporting materials to claims.

“You have to do more than just make a claim, you have to demonstrate effective occupation and they haven’t done that,” he said.  

Nordquist said a claimant country needed to have power or authority over the territory and it could not be done over another country’s protests.  He sid China’s reclamation activity in Johnson South Reef did not demonstrate this because the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest.  

Manila is monitoring three other reefs in the Spratlys where it suspects Beijing is planning reclamation areas.  Officials say they plan to file protests if they find reclamation work is being done.

In early April, following the Philippines filing of documents, in a position paper sent to media, China’s embassy in Manila reiterated that its “sovereignty and relevant rights in the South China Sea have solid historic and legal basis, and have been upheld by successive Chinese governments.”

Euan Graham is senior fellow of Maritime Security Studies at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.  He said China was “in a bind.”

“It may generate a claim on historical grounds to islands in the South China Sea and submit maps that it believes add to its case, but the nine-dash line can’t be reconciled with the U.N. Law of the Sea if that interpretation is that it’s an enclosure of territorial waters,” said Graham.

But Nordquist said despite the minimal impact of using maps to reinforce claims, China was in a stronger legal position than it appeared.  He said China could reject arbitration because in 2006, under UNCLOS, it opted out of letting any third party determine territory or maritime delineations.  And this would mean that an award in favor of the Philippines would be hard to enforce.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: so from: china
June 11, 2014 10:40 AM
The nine-dash line, originally it was a Chinese geography classroom project that was adopted by the ruling CCP as a party policy. It came about when the loudest and biggest student told a class, "hey let's draw a line all across and most of the South Seas", the other students were not sure, "it doesn't look legit!" and "how about the Philippines and Vietnam?" The big & loudest student said.."oh screw them, I like this nine-dash line!"
In Response

by: Frank from: USA
June 11, 2014 11:34 PM
What is legit? Well before the creation of UNCLOS ,China
has surveyed and marked the 2 archipelagoes.After Japan
surrendered ,the ROC went and took control of the Spratly.
The PRC has held the Paracel Archipelagoes for half a century.
Civil war distracted the central govt. and the ensuing turmoil and isolation provided opportunites for Vietnam and Philippines to encroach.To say she has no right is to ignore the truth-Who
has the longest continuous presence in these 2 archipelagoes?
Now she is stronger.she will rightfully restore order in the SCS.
You can twist history and the truth all you want, the mandarins
in Beijing will make sure order rules again.
In Response

by: Jack Cole from: Beijing, China
June 11, 2014 3:09 PM
So true.

by: jonathan huang from: canada
June 11, 2014 10:02 AM
Finos territory was defined by the treaty of Paris, the Spanish America treaty and two others. non of them included scaboural island or pratly islands. the only way to steal those islands is to twist the UNCLOS. however UNCLOSE doesnt give you the right to claim EEZ over other nations territory! stop being greedy fino, scaboural and pratly are not yours, get lost! and think about it this way, if south china sea doesnt belong to china how could democratic Taiwan use the nine dash line to define its sea territory?

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
June 11, 2014 1:04 AM
Base on the treaty of Paris, Finos territory doesn't include neither scaboural island or spratly islands. Clearly those islands must belong to China. And the UNCLOSE doesn't give you the right to claim other nations territory! Sorry it doesn't work that way.
Just look democratic Taiwan's map, it uses the nine dash line to define its sea territory too! Clearly South China Sea belongs to China! Democratic Taiwan wouldn't lie about its territory or be aggressive! When Taiwan published the nine dash line in 1947, fino wasn't even born yet! Clearly Finos must keep away from the nine dash line!
In Response

by: Chang Huang
June 12, 2014 5:12 AM
China is a great country, but this claim will never be able to hold water with regard to the rest of the world. You say the South China Sea belongs to China? Then the Gulf of Mexico and the entire Caribbean belong to the US. And most of the Arctic belongs to Russia. And Britain owns half to the North Atlantic Ocean. The world cannot stand for these types of insane claims. No good can come from this type of assertiveness; not for any the Philippians, not for Vietnam, and not for China. There will only be animosity and dread. China can do just fine without attempting to expand its borders illegally. It has come a long way in a short time and the future looks bright, but it must do it in a peaceful and respectful way. Everybody needs to live and enjoy the world that was made for them. Intruding into international waters and the 200 mile limits of other countries, will not avail China to reach the goal of prosperity for which it strives. This is a critical mistake.
In Response

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
June 11, 2014 8:28 AM
@tom, it doesn't matter how Taiwan enforce it or not, the point is that Taiwan's claim of SCS itself is a evidence that SCS belongs to China! How a nation enforce it's sovereignty doesn't affect the sovereignty of this territory.
In Response

by: Tom from: usa
June 11, 2014 7:30 AM
Factually, Taiwan was the author of the map in 1947 but, still tries to figure out what it means and not enforcing it in anyway. China, on the other hand is enforcing it as territorial waters without ability to prove rights under modern laws nor clear historical bases. All Chinese talks of 2,000 years 1st discovery and authority are extracted from feature names, routes and points of commerce...none of which support legal arguments. That's the reason China is using barbarian forces, learned from ancient times and hopes to get away with weaker responses. Such lawless acts expose Chinese aggressions and meet with growing opposition which eventually, will turn physical. If Chinese can't stop their expansionist government now, they risk not only ill gained territories but, also destruction.

by: TamDang from: USA
June 11, 2014 12:30 AM
The Philippines taking China to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is a right and good thing to do, but do not stop there. China won't respect any international ruling.

Vietnam and the Philippines must obtain lots of short, medium, and long range missiles capable of hitting Chinese army anywhere, especially choking their supplies for war on the sea between Vietnam and the Philippines.

Historically, Chinese never voluntarily withdrew its invading armies from Vietnam; they were chased out. This should be a BIG LESSON for the rest of the world. Swords, not words, will change their minds.
In Response

by: spencer from: uk
June 12, 2014 4:10 AM
Chinese will say:" SO IS THE US", then the world is screwed.
In Response

by: TamDang from: USA
June 11, 2014 11:44 AM
@Nguyen T Dung from Saigon, What is your reality? Kneeling down to the Chinese aggression and giving them your country? Is that what you want?

Vietnam is buying submarines. Why Vietnam is doing so, if not defending their country?

Are you sure your last name is Nguyen and you are from Saigon?

In Response

by: Nguyen T Dung from: Saigon
June 11, 2014 8:59 AM
@tamdang,u talking like a childish playing war time in yo grown up and accept the reality.

by: David Bishop from: California
June 10, 2014 8:13 PM
Philippines should still press its territorial claims because a UN decision that the Philippines owns that area of the South China Sea offers credibility to its claims. China has no credibility on this issue. With a UN decision in hand, the Philippines will find US companies more likely to perform oil drilling. China will not attack an American oil platform with the US Navy just a missile length away.
In Response

by: John from: Canada
June 20, 2014 5:59 AM
UN will never sanction 9 dash map so China's claim is illegal as if you look at history those vast area was not inherent property of China to include in its map as it neither controlled nor possessed those areas before that and some areas were part of other claimants well before illegal 9 dash.
In Response

by: John from: Canada
June 20, 2014 5:52 AM
UN ruling on Vietnam and Philippines is crucial as China is infringing UN accorded rights of these countries. UNCLOS not sanctioned 9 dash law and hence China's claim is illegal. UN wont sanction 9 dash map as those territories were part of other countries also well before its 9 dash.
In Response

by: John from: Canada
June 20, 2014 5:44 AM
China after 1900 once included Parcel then sprtley to its so called 9 dash and is claiming those areas without any historical backings. Let the UN resolve this by considering international laws which fully oppose China claims as well as history. Let the UN look at the history of other claimants on these areas as many say they were part of their territory .

by: tom from: usa
June 10, 2014 6:15 PM
China can make any fake stuff. Maps is too easy
In Response

by: Jack Cole from: Beijing China
June 11, 2014 11:31 PM
Actually, the map that Cina is using can also be found in all of the fortune cookie served after meal in chineman's restaurants in the LA area and NY City.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs