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Spratly Islands: a No Win Issue

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News of the rising tension in the South China Sea is making virtually every citizen in the area a bit edgy. The potential of a full-blown war is looming, unless the parties involved can come up with a peaceful resolution to the Spratly Islands dispute.

China’s bullying of smaller countries laying claim to parts of the highly contested archipelago is not surprising. China, as the most powerful of the lot, could have exercised prudence, but perhaps it has grown tired of waiting for something to happen.  If China were confident of its claim on the islands then why is it acting in such an insecure manner? China claims that they have been occupying the islands as early as 200 BC. At that time, the other parties in the dispute had not yet discovered seafaring.

However, the other states, including the Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei, which are laying claim to the Spratlys contend that, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which the disputing states are signatories, the islands fall within 200 nautical miles of their shores and are therefore part of their jurisdiction.

Whatever the argument may be, if no one concedes, no agreement will be reached and the conflict will continue to escalate. This means that none of the claiming countries will be able to exploit the resources, which are the basis for the dispute, and the very reason why none of the parties is yielding.

But come on, are we talking about these countries’ interests or the interests of a few of their people? Why can’t this issue be peacefully resolved? Why can’t they be content with the territories that have been claimed and be done with it? Why do they have to claim everything? The leaders of these countries should realize that if this issue won’t be resolved then no economic development in the area would happen, and not one of the contending states would benefit from the islands’ resources. Is it possible for them to just divide the islands equally? Perhaps that is the solution to this problem.

The leaders should start to realize that resolving the issue would be in the best interests of their people.

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About Ritche T. Salgado

  • Peter

    China had been prudent for 20+ years since 1990’s. Only now it has become more assertive.

  • Friend of Philippines

    Let’s get real. To which countries are the Spratlies most closely located? China is no where near the islands and its claim of being in those islands as early as 200 B.C. is vague at best. The 200 mile international boundary rule should apply here. Where less than 200 miles exists between nations, such as between the Philippines and Brunei and Malaysia, let a boundary be fixed in equal distances between said nations. In other words, divide right down the middle.

  • Friend of Philippines

    Has China lost its prudence? Has its lust and greed for power turned it into a bully? Should the biggest piece go to the bully? Might does not make right. The government of China is indeed on a mission of becoming the most powerful nation in the Pacific, and ultimately, of the world. The bully should not be allowed to flex its muscles to the detriment of other nations.

  • Clavos

    Has its lust and greed for power turned it into a bully?

    China as bully is nothing new. Ask Vietnam. Or Korea. Japan.

  • zingzing

    but don’t ask the chinese about japan. ooer, that was some ugly.

  • Our leaders must realize that nothing can be achieved if they only think of themselves and not as global citizens. The people of the world are thinking globally, its just the leaders who want to limit themselves with geographical borders.

  • S.T..M

    Of course, it has nothing to do with all that oil and gas that everyone knows is there … and the fertile fishing grounds, which are among the best in the Asia-Pacific region. Here’s my bet: The parts of the Spratlys already claimed by China have nothingf, but the ones claimed by some of the other countries DO, therefore China wants to claim a whole lot more than it has.

    No, course not. Wouldn’t be about that,w ould it.

    How are these islands part of China? It’s a nonesense. China wants them, and is sabre rattling – bullying – to get them.

    Some of the Spratlys claimed by China are nowhere near China and have historically not belonged to them. I read somewhere that part of China’s claim was that Chinese burial grounds and artefacts have been found.

    Big deal, you can find those in Australia and in San Francisco. What’s next?

    The truth is, the Chinese know they can bully people by dispatching their fleet in this 21st century version of gunboat diplomacy and have decided in this case to actually do it, while all the other nations involved in the dispute have called for restraint. Especially the Filipinos.

    The really bothering thing about this is that we are getting to see how China might really decide the way it’s going to take its place as a global citizen in the 21st century.

    They have huge influence now across the world through trade and aid – a huge amount in the Philippines, for starters, and in Australia where they are the biggest customer for all the minerals and coal in the ground – and part of how they’ve been doing business is to make threats about withdrawing it.

    In this case, some of the other claimants are former US or British colonies, and neither of those nations are going to be disposed to look kindly at this kind of action. The Chinese might think that doesn’t matter, but given the power and influence those two nations still wield, I’m sure they’d find out to their detriment if they tried to push this too far.

    To me, this whole episode indicates the Chinese are flexing their mucscle because they know they can, and that the aid and trade is used as part of that stretegy.

    I really hope not, since China will be the pre-eminent global power this century.

    I hope it’s not an indication of how it intends to do things, because if it, we should ALL be worried.

    We can only hope that smarter heads and wiser counsel prevail in Beijing, not just on this but on any other similar situations that might crop up.

  • S.T..M, you are right. I am sure that not all of China’s decision makers are as greedy as those who may be calling the shots at this time. China should consider that the Philippines is not just a trading partner (or a charity case), but also a host to many of its people. They should realize that their people have helped shape the Philippines into what it is today and that most of the leaders in every industry in the country has Chinese ancestry. They should stop bullying their little brother because by ancestry that’s what the Philippines is to China, a little brother. And its not just the Philippines, most of the countries that it is threatening are its littler brothers. China has the power to influence the world and I hope that they would realize that being a super power as it is, is not about doing something horrible just because you know you can do it, but about doing something good because its the right thing to do. China should start to realize this.

  • Nguyen

    China should get nothing. You cannot bully your way into something that is not yours in the first place. The island are close to Vietnam, malaysia, Philippine. There countries will share these islands fairly. Taiwan is een farther than China. these 2 chinese countries claims are ridiculous

  • Perhaps. If you were to ask me, this should be settled in a peaceful manner and every party to the dispute should learn to give as well as to take. Concessions must be made, otherwise it will never be resolved. The goal is for the people in the region, and I’d like to emphasize on that, the PEOPLE to benefit from the blessings that this part of the region has to offer.

  • John Lee

    Spratlies may drag China into World War III if China is not smart and starting to use force. Spratly should belong to 4 countries only, Vietnam/Philippines/Malaysia/Brunei should share the resources here since we are all poor brothers. We stick together with the help of U.S/British/Soviet/France then the Chinese can’t do a thing. U.S/British/Soviet/France join naval exercise in VA shortly. This will scare the hell out of China indeed. China is the biggest, richest, most greedy and aggressive in Asia.

    • elia

      So, Spratly should be given by China (who owned the islands since ancient times) to Vietnam/Philippines/Malaysia/Brunei because they are all poor brothers. It is always easy to be generous with other people’s property! Ha, ha!

  • Hi John Lee, I would agree. China’s stance on the issue sure tells us how they have shifted their policy into becoming an Imperialist country. Still, I would say that force is not the answer to the problem, and if we answer with force with the coaxing of war-freak countries, then trouble would really arrive on our doorsteps. Trouble that we may not be able to get out of without unnecessarily sacrificing innocent lives. Peaceful negotiations must be sought.

  • Jack

    China is not totally inflexible. People may ignore the fact that China actually is very prudent. One example is that she has a very good approach in dealing with Taiwan and never troubles Taiwan for the islands that both Chian and Taiwan claim and Taiwan actually occupies. Why not other countries do the same and do not trouble China for the islands that she occupies already?

  • Aaron

    The article is not quite correct. ROC (Taiwan)’s claim of Spratly is also based upon history (same history of China), not based upon 200 mile EEZ of UNCLOS.

    The bigger issue for China is not resources, but US surveillance activities in South China Sea.

    US is not ratifier of UNCLOS. Under UNCLOS, surveillance are not considered “innocent passage” within EEZ’s. and US and China had several clashes over US’s surveillance, for example, the Hainan EP3 collision incident.

    China wants to keep US surveillance out of South China Sea. Its assertion of sovereignty over Spratly is to ensure its eventual enforcement of no-US surveillance in China’s backyard.

    Perhaps a compromise can be reached, where a stricter joint enforcement of UNCLOS in the region, but along with freedom to economic development by all.

    Unfortunately, drawing in US into the argument would only cause China to entrench its position even further.

    China’s reaction is also historical. It has a long history of survival. It is patient. And it has a long memory.

    That’s why the other ASEAN members are less confrontational with China.

    You may think China’s policies are becoming “imperialist”, But you don’t want to force China to consider going “regime change” policies on its neighbors to ensure its own national interests (such as US does).

    Yes, you are disputing territories with China, and China is using its sheer size to its advantage. That’s just power politics. US does it in WTO all the time. It’s hardly imperialism.

    My point is, don’t push your own luck. Bargain, but don’t bargain too hard.

    In the game between China and US, small countries are pawns for the sacrifice.

  • Jack, that’s just the point. China is the one who’s trying to extend its territory in the Spratly. The other countries are maintaining their hold on the territory that they currently occupy, but China wants a piece of those territories as well.

  • Aaron, you raise such excellent points. Yes, Taiwan (ROC) is basing its claim on history, being part of PRC before realizing that they need to escape should they want to retain their riches (thus the argument that they stole most of China’s riches). I would also agree with you that this is actually a struggle between China and the US, although I am not convinced that its just about China not wanting the US to monitor its waters, thus its desire to control all of Spratly. If this is what China wants then I believe that most of the countries may agree with China to pressure the US not to encroach on the territory with their spying devices and all. But if China would terrorize these small countries, then China is like giving the US more reason to assert its presence in the region, in the guise of coming to the aid of the smaller countries. This, after all, is always the reason for the US to wage war on the countries that they consider to be a threat, right? The big brother, protector of the oppressed line, which is so not true but is accepted by the so-called oppressed because they need the support.

  • Jack

    Riche, you did not get me. I quoted Taiwan as an example explaining how well China behaves in the South China Sea disputes. Taiwan actually occupies several big islands that China claims its own, and yet China never has any problem with Taiwan’s being there, let alone using force to taken them back from Taiwan. So people shouldn’t think China is aggressive in South China Sea, it can be very polite and gentle. The nice way it treats Taiwan is one of many good examples. see my point?

  • I was referring to this point: Why not other countries do the same and do not trouble China for the islands that she occupies already?

    I don’t think the other countries are troubling China for the territories it is occupying, rather its China who’s troubling the other countries because it wants to claim ALL of the Spratly islands.

  • jack

    hi ritche, that was exactly what i referred to – the way china treats taiwan shows exactly how peaceful and tolerant china is in dealing with other nations’ claim of south china sea – to tolerate it. have you ever heard of china complain to taiwan that it occupies many islands of south china sea?

  • S.T..M


    That sounds like bullying, even the tone of your speech, which I suspect is the official Chinese government line (yes, we in the west aren’t stupid; we understand how these things work in China and who has access to what when it comes to the internet).

    The countries upon which the US has forced regime change have had some hand in use of actual force against the US. In the case of Afghanistan, a role to play in hiding those involved in the actual murder of thousands of US citizens, and in the case of Iraq, one of the most brutal regimes ever and in the same league as stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. The decline of Baathist Iraq was not lamented by 95 per cent of its own people, although I’ll agree that the imposition of American-style corporate “democracy” might not have been exactly what the Iraqi people had in mind to fill the vacuum.

    Be that as it may, I don’t see this being the same thing, and nor would any right-thinking person. None of these countries has in reality threatened the sovereignty of China or murdered its citizens. The opposite in fact; they are either modern democracies or developing ones who are actively engaged in peaveful trade with China that actually benefits China.

    Don’t take us for fools.

    That’s the other issue; propoganda isn’t fact, even if it comes officially from the Chinese government.

    This is an example of sabre rattling for selfish reasons by a country already doing far better economivally than most of its neighbours.

    China is doing this bnecause it has the muscle to do so … because it can.

    If it’s an example of how China inytends to conduct its international affairs in the modern world, then we should all be worried.

    Again, don;t take us for fools with this rubbish. We know who you are and why you are on here.

    If you have something sonstructive to say, well and good, but tired old official lines trotted out for propaganda purposes don’t cut the ice here in discussions over a very, very serious issue. As for security in the south-china sea, we all know – as does the Chinese government – that the US, given its huge trade with China, is more an ally of China – or at least a global partner – today than a threat.

    And again, let’s hope that cooler heads and wiser counsel prevail in Beijing on this issue, before it becomes more serious than it already is.

    China has the opportunity to show what kind of power and what kind of global citizen it really intends to be going forward into what will undoubtedly be China’s century.

    Let’s hope it doesn’t blow it before it even begins.

  • Hi Jack,

    I am not so familiar with the Taiwan issue. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Spratly issue, it looks like China is using a different tactic. The article did imply that China may have been tolerant with the issue but grew tired of the long resolution of the problem, which may be the reason why they are taking a different tactic on the issue. However, history would also show that there were also several instances that China took an aggressive stance on the issue, especially when it comes to dealing with our Vietnamese brothers.

  • Clavos

    That sounds like bullying, even the tone of your speech, which I suspect is the official Chinese government line (yes, we in the west aren’t stupid; we understand how these things work in China and who has access to what when it comes to the internet).

    They turn up sooner or later on every thread that mentions china, Stan.

  • STM

    Thanks Clav. I did notice before that on one thread they all came out of the woodwork. Doc and Chris busted them because they all had the same IP address in Beijing, if I remember correctly.

    This bloke is armed with all the info (EEZ, UNCLOS, WTO, Hainan) EP3), but none of the knowledge.

    So much bollocks, so little time …

  • Clav and Stan, Well, at least there are people like you who are familiar with those who comment and put things in perspective. It’s still great to listen to other arguments though, broadens our perspective on the issue, regardless on the credibility of the source.

  • STM

    Thanks Ritche … I’ve just been up in Luzon, BTW, in Mountain Province. Spooky place when you get up high to places like Sagada and Banuae.

    I love the Philippines. The great thing for Aussie tourists is that everyone speaks English, although I noticed some Filipinos listening very intently when I spoke. One guy asked: “It’s the same English, right?” Well, yes, I said, but … no, not always. He said: “Yes, I thought so … it’s very hard to understand sometimes”. The trick is in understanding that we speak with a non-rhotic accent and often don’t pronounce our ‘R’s.

    The first time I went for a holiday with my family to Palawan, Boracay and a small island off the south coast of Cebu. Amazing. My wife wants to go back to spend a week on the little island off Cebu (Sumilon), but with the GFC and everything, that’s not possible right now.

    This time around (last month) was for work, and we travelled in jeepney up the dirt mountain road to Sagada in the rain, the week of the typhoon and the heavy rain when there were rock falls happening everywhere. We managed to get up and down in one piece. Luckily, no one is headhunting up there these days 🙂

    Interesting stuff, and not a little bit scary …

    Of course, the Spratlys were in the Manila newspapers, which are some of the best papers I’ve ever read given their determination to fight and expose corruption, crony capitalism and oriminal behaviour at government level. Also very interesting, and very courageous on the part of the journalists.

    Cheers mate!

  • anromable

    There is no impact in our economy (Philippines) if China will no longer invest in our country. We, the Filipinos are self-reliant, we don’t need those chinese products be brought here because of low quality. As per our Central Bank circulation, China have not invested even a single centavo since 2002 here in our country. They exported their low quality products without paying duties and taxes. Their citizens are the one that supply illegal drugs like Shabu and Cocaine. To tell you frankly, we don’t need them.

  • Anromable, please review your economics. It would be more appropriate if you research first before placing a comment. For your information, last year alone trade with China increased by more than 50 percent, in the first half alone, and the Philippines benefited more from the partnership, exporting more Philippine-made products and importing less Chinese-made items. This means the Philippines profited more with the relationship. It is unfair to accuse China of these faults basing purely on rumor and uneducated insights.

  • Hi Stan, I’ve never been to Banaue and Sagada, yet, although I do love to go there, someday. Cebu, I am more familiar with as I am based in Central Philippines. With regards to headhunting, hehehe, well, that’s all in the past, although there are still rumors of cannibalism in some areas where cult groups exist. Very rare though.

    My sister is based in Sydney and my aunt in Queensland. I hope to visit your country, one of these days. I reckon its one of the most tolerant countries in the world, with a very diverse population.

    Thank you for the wonderful praise on our printed media. Being in the industry, I could say that we are trying our best to be as credible as we can, which could also be the reason why our country is one of the world’s most dangerous for journalists. Its a worthy fight, were fighting, and we just pray that the sacrifices made by our colleagues would someday come into fruition.

  • Jean

    What is the United Nations doing about this? Why hasn’t it assembled claiming nations in order to settle issue in the framework of UNCLOS. China most likely will not participate, then nations complying with UNCLOS should just exploit their rightful Economic Zone. If China become aggressive, UN should make its move.

  • I would agree. But lately, I find the organization to be useless when it comes to mediating between countries… it just has no teeth. I mean, if one party would not respect or agree with its decision, UN can’t do anything about it, except perhaps threaten to wage war or something.

    • elia

      Great idea! “UN can’t do anything about it, except perhaps threaten to wage war or something.”
      How many troops does the UN have? Who is the commander?

      if the UN cannot wage war, then it must wage
      ‘something’. ‘Something’ like a dish cloth?

  • fghh

    spratly islands is owned by philippines legally

  • Crispin Totamco

    Yes,China might be the first one to discover the spratly islands but,it is really in the area of the Philippines.Maybe I would also agree to China,because evethough the spratly islands is in the area of responsibility of our country,doesnt mean that the spratly islands is owned by the Philippines entirely.So i suggest that,maybe Philippines should share the spratly islands also in China so that we could be fair.

  • AJ

    Why would you want to give a bully a share of the pie? Their notion that they have indisputable sovereignty over these islands based on history is just ridiculous. If we let them claim based on that then Italy would get most if not entirely the continent of Europe. What equally absurd is the claim of Taiwan. Taiwan can’t even decide if they’re part of the mainland China or not, but for sure sooner or later they will yield for unification.

  • AJ

    Here’s a grim scenario, what if China got what it wants and drilled in Spratly. Then comes disaster, say oil spill. With the close proximity of the area to the Philippines, who would you think would suffer environmentally, financially, and politically? This is why the UN had set the EEZ rules. If its within your 200 nautical miles, then it’s yours!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    The major island in the Spratlys is Pag-Asa, which is Tagalog for “hope”. There has been a Filipino community there for generations.

    To me, that means it’s a Filipino island.

  • philippines-is-#1

    It is said that “China claims the whole South China Sea while the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei, claims part of the 1.7 square kilometer area with more than 160 mostly inhabitable islets and reefs. Studies show the area to rich in natural resource including an estimated 200 billion barrels of oil” which is the reason that countries quarrel about it. I feel sad about it because the China has a total area of 510,072,000 sq km and a total land area of 148,940,000 sq km but why can’t they claim only half of the spratley islands. Is it possible for them to just divide the islands equally? Why do they have to claim everything? The leaders should start to realize that resolving the issue would be in the best interests of their people.

  • pinoy po ako……..

    WEST PHILIPPINE SEA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Chopper15

    You know what.. seems you don’t understand.. filipinos are silent about it.. china is the one provoking and bullying other nation.. how come you’ll say to develop it peacefully.. by joint developing which is clear inside the territory of philippines where if there’s anyone to develop it, it’s only one sole and alone right of the filipinos.. china doesn’t have any right to interfere.. they are claiming just few kilometers from palawan where they are invading doing poaching.. that’s not the right thing to do.. filipinos experienced suppression and badly occupated by many and for sure they will not give a shit to those who only want is to gain.. philippines claim it not because of it’s gain but because it’s clearly inside it’s territory… now is it clear? Filipinos should not yield cause again.. they are the sole and alone owner..

  • Jonel

    Eat your butt you fucking China yoll never get the Spratly Islands

  • jca

    The issue of Taiwan and Philippines is very different. Spratlys island is part of the Philippines 200 nautical economic zone that’s the reason why the Spratlys is belong to the Philippines. I hope that the China know that thing.

  • yao ming

    china fetus eater! scum of the world