Manila to nail 'historical lies' with maps

One from 1136 identifies China's farthest southern territory as Hainan

THE Philippines will submit to a United Nations tribunal dozens of maps dating back to the Song Dynasty that, it says, reveal as "historical lies" China's claims over vast, resource-rich territories in the South China Sea.

"We are going to revisit the inventory of what we have sent to the tribunal, and my instruction to our people is that we should send everything, to see if that can be utilised for our protest," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday.

The maps "ferret out the truth from the fallacies... and present a counter narrative" to China's version of history, he said.

They can be used as "secondary or corroborating" evidence in Manila's case, he added.

The Philippines submitted to an international court in The Hague a 4,000-page "memorial" in March this year disputing China's so-called nine-dash line, which claims 90 per cent of the 3.5 million sq km South China Sea in a tongue-shaped encirclement.

In June, China published a new "vertical atlas" that features 10 dashes. Nine are in the South China Sea while the 10th is placed near Taiwan, purportedly to signify it as a province of China.

Fifteen of the 60 maps that the Philippines will submit are Chinese, including one dating back to 1136. They identify China's southernmost territory as Hainan island, not James Shoal 1,700km further south into the South China Sea, or Nansha islands in the Spratly chain of islets, atolls, reefs and shoals.

The rest of the maps show that since 1636, cartographers from Spain, France, Germany, the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and the Philippines have drawn one of the disputed islets in the South China Sea, the oil-rich Scarborough Shoal, as part of Philippine territory. Most of these maps are also part of the US Library of Congress' archives.

China has insisted that Scarborough is Nanhai island, where Chinese explorer Guo Shoujing built a celestial observatory in 1279.

Mr Antonio Carpio, an associate justice of the Supreme Court who penned a ruling on the Philippines' territorial boundaries, had said in past lectures that this was a "double lie" since China itself had also placed Nanhai in the Paracel islands 722km from Scarborough. It was "quite ridiculous" to say Guo built an observatory on Scarborough because the shoal "barely protruded above water at high tide".

China also used the sea voyages of legendary Admiral Zheng He from 1405 to 1433, as well as historical names, as a basis for its claims over the South China Sea.

Mr Carpio argued in his lectures that using Zheng's voyage is akin to saying Spain and Portugal still have rights to territories that explorers like Ferdinand Magellan sailed to as they attempted to circumnavigate the globe. As for historical names, he said China cannot claim the South China Sea in much the same way that India cannot claim the Indian Ocean, or Mexico the Gulf of Mexico.

China said it gained "effective jurisdiction" over waters off the four island groups - Dongsha (Pratas), Xisha (Paracel), Zhongsha (Macclesfield Bank) and Nansha (Spratly) - when the ancestors of today's Chinese first sailed there more than 2,000 years ago.

It said its naval forces exercised jurisdiction over Dongsha and Xisha islands during the Tang Dynasty (AD618-AD907), and that by the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, the Chinese had extended their activities to waters off Zhongsha and Nansha. Their reach covered all the islands during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, establishing China's maritime boundary in the South China Sea.

Mr Marcel Briana, executive director of the Centre for Regional Studies and Policy Reforms, said the Philippines, in dusting off the old maps and presenting them as evidence, "is trying to engage China on a front that may not carry much legal weight but is just as important because of its impact on a nation's sense of statehood".

Taiwan, another claimant, is coming up with its own map of the disputed islands.

rdancel@sph.com.sg