In the March 27 issue of the Hong Kong–based English-language weekly HK Magazine, published by Asia City Publishing Limited, a columnist named Chip Tsao called the Philippines a “nation of servants,” triggered by the Spratly Islands dispute. Here’s a quote from the article, entitled “The War at Home,” that Tsao wrote:
“Manila has just claimed sovereignty over the scattered rocks in the South China Sea called the Spratly Islands, complete with a blatant threat from its Congress to send gunboats to the South China Sea to defend the islands from China if necessary. This is beyond reproach. The reason: there are more than 130,000 Filipina maids working as [HK]$3,580-a-month cheap labor in Hong Kong. As a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter.”
He went on to say that some of his friends have gone so far as to intimidate their Filipina nannies to shout “China, Madam/Sir” loudly whenever they hear the word “Spratly.”
In my lifetime, I’ve seen insolent people who resort to insults, cusses, and irrelevant rants to win an argument. Disputes over the ownership of land are settled soberly in a court of law; in the case of Spratlys, in an international court. Tsao may have gained the admiration of Chinese rednecks, but his reputation as a writer and dignity as a person is inching towards the level a bigot of the worst kind when he put out this drivel. (In the April 3 issue, the publisher and editors apologized unreservedly, stating that the column was meant to be satirical.)
So what about the Spratlys? The Spratly Islands are a group of over 650 reefs, atolls, and islets on the South China Sea about halfway between the Philippines and Vietnam. In total area, they are less than the area of Winnipeg, and they are spread over a seaspace two-thirds the size of Manitoba. The Spratlys are really small, but they have potential economic value (oil and gas reserves). They also establish international boundaries of independent territories. A few residents live there in addition to the number fisherfolk availing of the rich fishing grounds and the occasional military personnel stationed on the islands. A number of military forces from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam occupy some of the islands. The State of Brunei has a fishing zone in the area which includes a southern reef, but the country has made no formal claim.
While the Philippines’ claim to Spratly Islands was first made in the United Nations in 1946, its involvement did not begin in earnest until 1956, when the Filipino adventurer Tomas Cloma proclaimed the founding of a new state, named Kalayaan. Cloma’s view, which is in congruence with that of present-day government, is that the Spratlys are res nullius, or “nobody’s property.” Kalayaan encompassed fifty-three features spread on the eastern South China Sea, Itu Aba, Pag-asa, and Nam Yit Islands, not including Spratly Island proper. Cloma established a protectorate with Pag-asa as the capital and himself as Chairman of the Supreme Council. The other claimants lodged official protests and Taiwan sent a naval taskforce to occupy the islands and establish a base on Itu Aba, which it retains to the present day.
By 1968, the Philippines had troops posted on three islands on the premise of protecting the citizens of Kalayaan. In early 1971, the Philippines, on behalf of Cloma, sent a diplomatic note to Taipei, demanding their withdrawal from Itu Aba. In April 1972, Kalayaan was officially incorporated into Palawan by the Marcos government and was administered as a municipality with Tomas Cloma as the town council chairman. The Philippines attempted to land troops on Itu Aba in 1977, only to be repelled by the Taiwanese troops who were already there. There were no reports of casualties from the conflict. Today, Kalayaan (mainly its one barangay, Pag-asa) has a population of about 300, a 1.3-kilometer airstrip, a water-filtering plant, power generators, weather stations, a communication tower built by SMART Telecommunications, and its own elected mayor.
The Philippines bases its claims of sovereignty over the Spratlys on the issues of res nullius and geography. When Japan renounced its sovereignty over the islands in the San Francisco Treaty in 1951, the islands became res nullius and available for annexation. The Philippines’ claim to Kalayaan on geographical grounds asserts that it is distinct from other island groups in the South China Sea because, in oceanography, the practice is to refer to a chain of islands through the name of the biggest island in the group. Distancewise, Spratly Island is roughly 210 nautical miles (nm) off Pag-asa Island. Therefore, they are not part of the same island chain. The Paracels, being 34.5 nm northwest of Pag-asa Island, is definitely a different group of islands.
A stronger geographical argument that the Philippines use over its claim to the Spratlys is that all the islands it claims lie within the country’s archipelagic baselines, in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states what are within one’s territorial waters (out to 12 nm from the baseline). Kalayaan is about 300 miles west of Puerto Princesa, truly a part of the Philippine Archipelago.
A coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource; and that exclusive economic zones (EEZs) extend 200 nautical miles from the baseline. Within an EEZ, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources. China, the Philippines, and Vietnam are all signatories to the UN agreement. The Philippines also argues, under Law of the Sea provisions, that China and Vietnam cannot extend their respective baseline claims to the Spratlys because neither of the two is an archipelagic state.
As I said, disputes are settled soberly at the World Maritime Tribunal in Hamburg, Germany; not through insults, cusses, and irrelevant rants.
In an interview aired over Hong Kong’s ATV, Tsao has subsequently admitted his wrongdoing and apologized to the Philippine government and its people. He said, “I realized that I had crossed the line. I now offer my public apology.”
(For further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spratlys)