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Island belongs to China

By Li Jinming (China Daily)

10:07, May 08, 2012

BEIJING, May 8 (Xinhuanet) -- A Philippine gunboat harassed 12 Chinese fishing boats that were taking refuge from harsh weather in a lagoon near China's Huangyan Island last month, triggering the current standoff between China and the Philippines.

The Philippines never disputed China's sovereignty over the island until 1997, and a 1978 map sanctioned by the Philippines' National Mapping and Resource Information Authority placed Huangyan Island outside the Philippines' territorial limits. However, in May 1997, the Philippine navy intercepted two vessels carrying a group of amateur radio enthusiasts from China, Japan and the United States, who had planned an expedition to Huangyan Island. Before long, a group of Philippine congressmen sailed to the island and posed for photos under a Philippine flag, and later the Philippines navy arrested 21 Chinese fishermen near the island and filed an illegal entry charge against them.

Manila bases its claim on proximity and insists that the island is within its exclusive economic zone. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea allows a coastal state to claim a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, but the state has no right to change the ownership of territory by doing so.

China is the first country to name Huangyan Island and incorporate it into its territory and exercise jurisdiction over it. In 1935, the then Chinese government included the island with the name Scarborough Shoal as part of the Zhongsha Islands into Chinese territory. In 1947, the government announced a new list of South China Sea islands, in which Scarborough Shoal was also included and renamed as Democratic Reef, and in 1983, China released a list of some South China Sea islands and began to use Huangyan Island as the island's standard name.

While China has legal foundations for its sovereignty over Huangyan Island, the Philippines' claim that Huangyan Island is within its exclusive economic zone lacks legal basis. Back in 1997, Judge Eliodoro Ubiadas of the regional trial court of Olongapo in Zambales province dismissed the illegal entry charges filed against the Chinese fishermen, invoking a provision in the Presidential Decree No 1599, a law issued in 1978 to establish an exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. The provision stipulated that even though the Philippines' exclusive economic zone extends to a distance of 200 nautical miles beyond and from the baseline, provided that where the outer limits of the zone as thus determined overlap that of an adjacent or neighboring state, the common boundaries shall be determined by agreement with the state concerned. The judge thus ruled that the accused "were apprehended in a place over which there is yet no agreement between the Chinese and the Philippine governments" and thus there is no legal basis to conclude that "the accused entered Philippine territory illegally".

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