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The Standoff between Beijing and Manila around the Huangyan Island: Who owns the Shoal?

By Gao Jianjun  (People's Daily Online)

15:09, May 11, 2012

The recent standoff between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea began on April 10 when the Philippine Navy boarded, searched and tried to apprehend Chinese fishing boats anchored in the lagoon within the Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal), and later two Chinese Marine surveillance vessels arrived to prevent the Philippine Navy vessel of further actions against the fishing boats.

As a result of diplomatic efforts, tensions have calmed down, but the standoff at the Scarborough Shoal is continuing. Therefore the two sides still need to negotiate in order to find a diplomatic end to the impasse.

The Huangyan Island, called by the Philippines as Bajo de Masinloc, composed of a few maritime features, is located about 330 nautical miles east of Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands) and 124 nautical miles west of Luzon Island of the Philippines.

Since 1997, the Philippine side has disputed China's sovereignty over the Huangyan Island. The recent standoff is the latest manifestation of the territorial dispute between the two states. After the incident arose, Beijing and Manila issued papers respectively to support their competing claims to the disputed island. It is interesting to note that both sides agree that "geographical proximity" is not a mode of acquiring territory under international law. Thus, the fact that Huangyan Island is closer to the Philippines than to China has no consequence for the settlement of the dispute.

Furthermore, both sides also agree that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which both states are parties, especially its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf regimes, can not be utilized as a legal ground to claim territorial sovereignty.

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David Salmon at 2012-05-1267.142.174.*
It seems to me that the idea that shoals and rocks in the ocean are worth claiming is fairly modern. It was not until the discovery that such places can have important fisheries, oil and gas, and other economic resources that sovereignty over the rocks became much of an issue. I would suggest that China offer to accommodate the economic interests of its neighbors by sharing access to these resources with them. China, as a rising superpower, can afford to be generous, and it would demonstrate China"s peaceful policy.

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