Nov 23, 2012

Philippines - China places disputed sea map on new e-passports

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The Philippines has protested China’s depiction of its claims over the entire West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in an image of a map printed on newly issued Chinese electronic passports.

The map means the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries with claims to territories in the sea will have to stamp the microchip-equipped passports of thousands of Chinese tourists and businessmen containing Chinese claims that they are disputing. Their stamps mean they recognise those claims.

In a diplomatic note the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sent to the Chinese Embassy in Manila yesterday, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario called the inclusion of islands within Philippine territory on the new map of China “excessive declaration of maritime space”.

China’s adoption of the new map comes amid efforts by the Philippines and its Southeast Asian neighbours to find a peaceful resolution of their territorial disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea.

The new map also tends to enhance the understanding of ordinary Chinese that the Philippines is part of their territory.

That understanding became known in early May, at the height of a standoff between Chinese and Philippine ships at Panatag Shoal (Scarbourough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea, when an anchor on China’s state-run television network accidentally declared the Philippines a part of China during a broadcast that was relently replayed on the Internet.

“We all know that the Philippines is China’s inherent territory and the Philippines belongs to Chinese sovereignty. This is an indisputable fact,” said He Jia, an anchor for China Central Television’s national news broadcast.

He apparently meant to say that Panatag Shoal, known in China as Huangyan Island and claimed by both nations, was Chinese territory.
Beijing acknowledged that it was a gaffe, but did not apologise to Manila.

Chinese strategy

And now comes the electronic passports with the new map that reflects China’s claims to nearly the entire West Philippine Sea and that the Philippines must stamp, a strategy by which China is forcing the Philippines to acknowledge Chinese sovereignty over all territories in the sea.

The map contains the so-called nine-dash lines that demarcate the territories in the sea that China claims in rivalry with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

“The Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash lines in the e-passport, as such image covers an area that is clearly part of Philippine territory and maritime domain,” Del Rosario said in the diplomatic note.

“The Philippines does not accept the validity of the nine-dash lines that amount to an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law,” Del Rosario said.

Vietnam had also protested against the new passports.

Vietnam had written to China asking that China “reverse” the passports’ “incorrect content”, said Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesperson for Vietnam’s foreign ministry

“This action by China has violated Vietnam’s sovereignty to the Paracel and Spratly islands as well as our sovereign rights and jurisdiction to related maritime areas in the South China Sea, or the East Sea,” he told a news conference.

Protests may be expected from Brunei and Malaysia as well.

Violation of ’02 accord

Del Rosario said China’s latest assertion of its claims in the West Philippine Sea violated the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, a nonbinding pact that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) signed with China in 2002.

Del Rosario said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao stated at this week’s Asean-China Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, that China would honour the declaration.

“The Philippines demands that China respect [its] territory and maritime domain,” Del Rosario said. “The action of China is contrary to the spirit of the DOC, particularly the provision calling on parties to refrain from actions that complicate and escalate the dispute,” he said.

Del Rosario reiterated that the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea were within the country’s exclusive economic zone, an area recognised under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

“The [Philippines] reiterates that the [West Philippine Sea] with the waters, islands, rocks, other maritime features and the continental shelf within the [370 kilometres] from the baselines form an integral part of [its] territory and maritime jurisdiction,” he said.
International standards

A Reuters report quoted China’s foreign ministry as saying that the new passports met international standards.

“The passports’ maps with their outlines of China are not targeting a specific country. China is willing to actively communicate with the relevant countries and promote the healthy development of Sino-foreign personnel exchanges,” the ministry said.

It was not clear when China began printing the new passports.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila issued a statement saying that China was willing to work with Asean on the implementation of the 2002 declaration.

The statement quoted Wen’s remarks at the Asean-China Summit in Phnom Penh.

“He stressed that China pursues good neighbourliness and that all problems must be properly solved by countries concerned through direct dialogue and consultation,” the statement said.

“China is ready to make joint efforts with Asean countries to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, safeguard regional peace, stability, cooperation and development,” it said.

Indisputable sovereignty

But the statement insisted that China had sovereignty over Panatag Shoal.

“Huangyan Island is an integral part of Chinese territory and that its sovereignty is indisputable,” the statement said, quoting Wen.

“China’s actions to defend the island’s sovereignty are legitimate and necessary,” it added.

The Philippines and China remain in a standoff at Panatag Shoal. Chinese vessels are at the shoal. The Philippines has none, but the government has said it will send back the ships it pulled out in mid-June if the Chinese do not leave.

With reports from AFP and AP

Tarra Quismundo

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