Monday, July 27, 2020


Since the Philippines faces this body of water and China is more than a thousand miles away what would be more appropriate than to change the name to the West Philippine Sea. South China Sea with a total coastline measuring approximately 130,000 km (81,250 miles) long; whereas the Southern China’s coastline measured about 2,800 km (1,750 miles) in length.
Other proposals have included the “Indochina Sea” and the “Asean Sea,” though that last one bumps into the problem of Cambodia, a member of ASEAN, siding more with China (and earning Beijing’s appreciation along the way).The sea has had a variety of names throughout history, with “South China Sea” being a relatively recent invention (paywall), coming into use in the 1930s as a way to distinguish the waterway from the East China Sea.
China can play the name game, too. In the Chinese language, the sea is called simply Nanhai, or the South Sea. Some have proposed renaming the southern Hainan Province, which faces the sea, to “Nanhai Province.” Proponents contend the name change would help fortify China’s claims to the sea.
In English, changing the name of the sea to “South Sea” might work, argued Ellen Frost, a senior adviser at the East-West Center, earlier this year. Chinese nationalists would surely reject the “Southeast Asia Sea,” she noted (pdf). But they’d have a harder time arguing against the “South Sea”—even though it removes “China”—since in Chinese the name ”Nanhai” has been around for centuries. The northern end of the West Philippine Sea is at Hainan Island which is the Southern most part of China.
This is the patrimony of Southeast Asian nations, the lifeblood of their coastal communities, and the livelihood of millions of their citizens. The United States stands alongside the Philippines and other Southeast Asian partners to uphold a rules-based order that ensures sovereign, sustainable, and productive access to the South China Sea and its resources.
At last month’s ASEAN Summit, ASEAN leaders reaffirmed the importance of maintaining the South China Sea “as a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity.” To strengthen our support for sovereignty and freedom of the seas, this week, the United States announced an important change in US policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea.
As US Secretary of State Pompeo explained, the United States rejects any People’s Republic of China (PRC) maritime claims within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone or continental shelf, and claims in waters beyond 12 nautical miles from the islands in the Spratlys. Beijing’s harassment of Philippine fisheries and offshore energy development within those areas is unlawful, as are any unilateral PRC actions to exploit those resources. Under the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Award, which is final and legally binding, the Philippines enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction with respect to the natural resources in its EEZ. As Secretary of Foreign Affairs Locsin remarked this weekend on the anniversary of the ruling, “The arbitral tribunal’s award of 12 July 2016 represents a victory, not just for the Philippines, but for the entire community of consistently law-abiding nations.”

Why is this important? Here in the Philippines, the West Philippine Sea epitomizes the rich marine diversity of this country. In its waters, scientists have discovered hundreds of species of fish, coral, seagrass, and other marine life existing in interdependent systems that teach us about the planet’s complexity, fragility, and resilience. These habitats not only provide the fish that fill Filipino fishing vessels (and Filipino plates), they also serve as spawning grounds for schools that populate seas throughout Southeast Asia. Philippine scientists believe some of the species unique to these waters may also hold the key to biomedical breakthroughs, while climate researchers can study ecosystem changes to measure human impact on the environment.

Marine conservation begins with securing territorial integrity; when any nation uses coercion, subversion, disinformation, and other underhanded tactics to further its position in the South China Sea, it denies our friends and partners the right to build a sustainable future. ASEAN leaders expressed concern over activities and serious incidents in the South China Sea which have “eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.” The United States remains committed to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, and will continue to defend the right of freedom of navigation in international waters and airways. Earlier this month, the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group conducted dual-carrier operations with the Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carriers, demonstrating US commitment to mutual defense agreements and promoting peace and prosperity throughout the Indo-Pacific. 

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