Ten Questions Regarding Huangyan Island
1. Where is Huangyan Island?
Internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, Huangyan Island (once named Minzhu Jiao or Democratic Reef) is situated in the South China Sea at 15°07′ N and 117°51′ E and is a part of China's Zhongsha Islands. With reefs and rocks in a circle ring shape stretching about 55 kilometers in circumference, Huangyan Island has a lagoon with an area of about 130km2 and a depth of 10 – 20 meters.
(Figure 1: Map of Islands in the South China Sea)
(Figure 2: An Aerial View of Huangyan Island)
2. When did China discover and name Huangyan Island?
China conducted astronomical and geographical surveys of the South China Sea,including Huangyan Island, in the 13th century during the Yuan Dynasty. It shows that China discovered and exploited Huangyan Island in the Yuan Dynasty, to say the least.
In 1935, the Lands and Waters Mapping Review Committee of the then Chinese government approved and publicized the geographical names of 132 islands, shoals, reefs and sand bars in the South China Sea, and Huangyan Island, with the name of Scarborough Shoal was included in the list as part of the Zhongsha Islands of the Chinese territory. In 1947, the Department of Territory of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Chinese government approved and publicized the geographical names of 172 islands in the South China Sea, including Huangyan Island which was then named Minzhu Jiao in Chinese as part of the Zhongsha Islands. In the early 1980s, the Chinese government conducted a survey on island names in the South China Sea. In 1983, China Committee on Geographical Names was authorized to publicize a list of geographic names of some South China Sea islands, which used Huangyan Island as the standard name of the island, with Minzhu Jiao as an alternative name.
(Figure 3: Issue No. 1 of the Journal of the Chinese Government's Land and Water Mapping Review Committee in 1935)
(Figure 4: In 1947, the Department of Territory of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Chinese government approved and publicized the geographical names of 172 islands in the South China Sea, including Huangyan Island which was then named Minzhu Jiao in Chinese as part of the Zhongsha Islands.)
3. How has China developed and exploited Huangyan Island?
Huangyan Island and its surrounding waters have been China's traditional fishing grounds since ancient times. Chinese fishermen have engaged in fishery activities for generations. In addition, they have used Huangyan Island as a safe haven in their voyage in the South China Sea. Genglubu, an ancient Chinese navigation log recording trips in the South China Sea, and other ancient documents and literature contain complete records of Chinese fishermen's activities around Huangyan Island. Since the Yuan Dynasty, the Chinese people have never stopped developing and exploiting Huangyan Island and its surrounding waters and the Chinese government has exercised effective management and jurisdiction over their activities all these years. These historical facts are supported by official documents, local chronicles and official maps in the past centuries.
(Figure 5: Chinese Fishing Boats around Huangyan Island)
(Figure 6: China's Ocean Expedition Team Conducting a Survey at Huangyan Island)
The Chinese government has also sent out scientific expedition teams to Huangyan Island on many occasions. For instance, scientists of South China Sea Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences landed on Huangyan Island for research activities in October 1977 and June 1978 respectively. The South China Sea Branch of the State Oceanic Administration organized a comprehensive survey on Huangyan Island in April 1985. The Chinese South China Sea Scientific Expedition Team stepped onto Huangyan Island for scientific research and erected a one-meter-high cement monument in 1994. The relevant department of the Chinese government approved the application by radio amateurs to embark on Huangyan Island for radio exploration activities in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 2007 respectively.
(Figure 7: In 1994, the Chinese and international radio amateurs used BS7H call sign to send out messages to the world from Huangyan Island for the first time. BS7H was a call sign internationally recognized for amateur radio communication from Huangyan Island. In this call sign, B refers to China's radio station, S refers to the islands in the South China Sea, 7 refers to the 7th zone of Chinese radio amateur, to which Hainan Province belongs, and H refers to Huangyan Island.)
4. How has China exercised effective jurisdiction of Huangyan Island?
Among the 132 islands, shoals, reefs and sand bars in the South China Sea in the list of geographical names approved and publicized by the Water and Land Mapping Review Committee of the Chinese government in 1935, Huangyan Island was listed as part of the Zhongsha Islands. The committee subsequently issued the Map of China's Islands in the South China Sea and included Huangyan Island into China's territory. The Internal Affairs Ministry of the Chinese government produced a Location Map of the South China Sea Islands in 1947,in which the geographical names of the Dongsha, Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands were clearly marked, together with 172 islands, shoals, reefs and sand bars. Huangyan Island, then named Minzhu Jiao, was marked as part of the Zhongsha Islands. In 1948, this Location Map was officially publicized by the Internal Affairs Ministry of the Chinese government as an appendix to the Administrative Map of the Republic of China.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, China has continued to exercise sovereignty over Huangyan Island. Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, in his 1951 statement on the US and UK's draft peace treaty with Japan and the San Francisco Conference, explicitly stated the following: " The Xisha Islands and Nanwei Island, just like the Nansha, Zhongsha and Dongsha islands, have always been China's territory. Although they had been occupied by Japan for some time during the war of aggression waged by Japanese imperialists, they were all taken back by the then Chinese government following Japan's surrender." Therefore, Huangyan Island as part of the Zhongsha Islands indisputably belongs to China. China issued the Statement of the People's Republic of China on the Territorial Sea in 1958,in which China reaffirmed its sovereignty over the Dongsha, Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands. In 1959, the Office for Xisha, Nansha and Zhongsha Islands' Affairs under the government of Guangdong Province, was opened by the Chinese government on the Yongxing Island, which is a part of the Xisha Islands. The office became a part of the government of the newly-established Hainan Province in 1988.
(Figure 8: The Office for Xisha, Nansha and Zhongsha Islands' Affairs on the Yongxing Island)
In the early 1980s, the Chinese government conducted a survey of the geographical names of the Nanhai Islands. In 1983, the Committee on Geographical Names of China was authorized to publicize the geographical names of selected islands in the South China Sea, in which Huangyan Island was included as the standard name and Minzhu Jiao as its alternative name. The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone publicized in 1992 has explicitly provided in article 2 that " The land territory of the People's Republic of China includes the mainland of the People's Republic of China and its coastal islands; Taiwan and all islands appertaining there to including the Diaoyu Islands; the Penghu Islands; the Dongsha Islands; the Xisha Islands; the Zhongsha Islands and the Nansha Islands; as well as all the other islands belonging to the People's Republic of China." Once again, China reaffirmed its sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, including Huangyan Island. It needs to be mentioned that not any country has ever opposed or disputed China's sovereignty over Huangyan Island.
(Figure 9: China's Marine Surveillance Vessel)
5. Why is Huangyan Island outside the territory of the Philippines?
Before 1997, the Philippines had never claimed sovereignty over Huangyan Island. In fact, the composition and scope of the Philippine territory was clearly determined by a series of international treaties. The "Treaty of Paris between Spain and the United States" in 1898, the "Treaty of Washington between Spain and the United States" in 1900 and the "Anglo-American Treaty" in 1930 had clearly defined that 118 degrees east longitude is the western limit of Philippine territory. The Huangyan Island is outside it. After the Second World War, the Philippines signed a series of treaties and agreements with the US, which have all reiterated the legal effect of the above-mentioned three treaties. The Act 3046 set by Philippines about its territorial sea baseline in 1961 and the amendment of the territorial sea baseline by Philippines in 1968 have both clearly reaffirmed that 118 degree east longitude is the western limit of the Philippine territory and Huangyan Island is not a base point of the Philippine territorial sea baseline.
(Figure 10: Official Map of the Philippines in 1990, with Huangyan Island lying outside the boundary of the Philippine Territory)
The official maps of the Philippines publicized respectively in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and even 2011 have all marked Huangyan Island as outside the boundary of the Philippine territory.
(Figure 11: Official Map of the Philippines published in 2006, with Huangyan Island lying outside the boundary of the Philippine Territory)
(Figure 12: Political Map of the Philippines published in 2011, with Huangyan Island lying outside the boundary of the Philippine Territory)
The Philippines officially and explicitly stated that Huangyan Island did not belong to the Philippines. For instance, the former Philippine ambassador to Germany stated clearly in his letter to German radio amateurs on 5 February 1990 that "Huangyan Island is not within the territory of the Philippines according to the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority of the Philippines (NAMRIA)." Both the official document issued by NAMRIA dated 18 October 1994 and a document from the Philippine Amateur Radio Association to the American Radio Relay League dated on 18 November 1994 made it clear that "the territorial boundary and sovereignty of the Philippines were provided for in Article 3 of the Treaty of Paris between the US and Spain on 10 December 1898 with Huangyan Island outside the Philippine territory."
6. When did the Philippines place its claim over Huangyan Island?
Since May 1997, the Philippines has revealed its intention to occupy China's Huangyan Island. At that time, the Chinese Radio Sports Association organized a China-US-Japan radio expedition team to land on Huangyan Island for radio activities. During this period, the Philippines repeatedly dispatched warships and military aircrafts to track, monitor and harass these amateur radio activities. Two members of the Philippine House of Representatives blatantly boarded a naval vessel to land on Huangyan Island, where they erected flags and monuments, and blocked and intimidated the Chinese personnel. In 2009, the Philippines amended the Philippine Territorial Sea Baselines Act to include Huangyan Island into its territory. China has expressed its unequivocal opposition to these activities by the Philippines and has lodged solemn representations with the Philippine side.
7. Why do you say that the Philippine claim of the sovereignty over Huangyan Island does not hold water?
The Philippines' position on Huangyan Island has been inconsistent and self-contradictory and is absolutely groundless according to the international law.
a) Before the 1990s, the Philippines had never challenged China's sovereignty and jurisdiction over Huangyan Island.
b) In the late 1990s, the Philippines advanced its territorial claim over Huangyan Island on the ground of geographic proximity and on the excuse that Huangyan Island is located within the 200 nautical miles of the Philippine EEZ according to its one-sided interpretation of UNCLOS. However, the principle of geographic proximity does not provide the legal basis for territorial sovereignty while its EEZ-based claim violates the principle of international law that "the land dominates the sea", and it is also a misinterpretation and abuse of the UNCLOS.
c) After the Huangyan Island Incident in April 2012, the Philippines has given a new reason for its claim, saying that the Philippines has effectively occupied and managed Huangyan Island ever since its independence. But China has discovered, exploited, named and effectively administered Huangyan Island and has never stopped its effective jurisdiction over the island even since the 13th century, much earlier than the independence of the Philippines.
(Figure 13-14: the New Oxford Atlas, Oxford University Press)
8. Why do you think the Philippines violates international law by basing its territorial claim on the geographic proximity?
The Philippines claims sovereignty over Huangyan Island because it is closest to the Philippines. According to international judicial practice and international case law, the so-called "geographic proximity" does not constitute a basis for one country to occupy the territory of another country. In today's world, many countries have remote off-shore territories, which are much closer to other countries than to their own. There are numerous cases in the world in which countries have owned offshore territories or islands that are far away from their own countries and closer to their neighboring countries. Therefore, geographic proximity cannot change the sovereignty of these territories or islands.
9. Why do you say that the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs)-based claim of sovereignty over Huangyan Island represents a misinterpretation and abuse of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)?
The Philippines claims that since Huangyan Island is about 125 nautical miles away from its Luzon Island, thus within its EEZs, as the UNCLOS provides for 200 nautical miles EEZs, the Philippines has the sovereignty over Huangyan Island. Clearly, the Philippines here has misinterpreted and misapplied UNCLOS on the basis of its own interests, which is contrary to international law and to UNCLOS. It has been an established basic principle of international law that "the land dominates the sea". Coastal states derive their sovereign rights and jurisdiction over EEZs from their territorial sovereignty. UNCLOS does not have any provision to change a country's sovereignty over territorial land, let alone empowering any nation to extend its EEZs to include territories of other countries. Hence, UNCLOS can not serve as a basis for a country to claim sovereignty over China's Huangyan Island. In this context, ignoring the fact Huangyan Island has always belonged to China, the Philippines' EEZs-based territorial claim to the detriment of China's territorial sovereignty is not only a misinterpretation and abuse of UNCLOS, but also represents a violation of the fundamental principle of the inviolability of territorial sovereignty enshrined in the UN Charter.
10. What actually happened on Huangyan Island in April 2012?
When 12 fishing boats from Hainan, China were conducting normal operations in the Huangyan Island lagoon on the morning of April 10, the Philippine Navy warship Gregorio del Pilar blocked the entrance to the lagoon. The Philippine armed personnel boarded four Chinese fishing boats, questioned the Chinese fishermen, searched the boats and took photos. They were rude and rough, severely violated China's territorial sovereignty and the human rights of Chinese fishermen. On the afternoon of 10 April, upon learning of the incident, the Chinese marine surveillance vessels No.84 and No.75, both performing routine patrol duty nearby, immediately headed to the Island to protect the safety of the Chinese fishermen. On the afternoon of 11 April, the Chinese fishery administration boat No.303 also arrived on the site and instructed the Chinese fishing boats and fishermen to evacuate safely and get rid of the Philippine intimidation. Afterwards, an archaeological ship of the Philippines stayed in the lagoon for illegal operation for a long time, and refused to leave the site until 18 April after China's repeated representations.
After the occurrence of Huangyan Island Incident, China has consistently adhered to its position of solving the issue through diplomatic consultation. However, the Philippines kept escalating the situation, made erroneous remarks to mislead the public at home and abroad and whip up hostile sentiments. All the above actions have severely damaged the bilateral relations. To prevent further provocation by the Philippines, the Chinese public service ships have continued to keep close watch over Huangyan Island waters, provide administrative and other service to Chinese fishing boats in accordance with China's laws, so as to ensure Chinese fishermen a good environment for operations in their traditional fishing grounds.
(From Website of National Insititude for South China Sea Studies http://www.nanhai.org.cn/en/newspic_show.asp?lm=news&newsid=2547)