Fu Ying, Wu Shicun
THE South China Sea issue, especially the Nansha Islands, has raised worldwide attention. This area was initially discovered and named by China as the Nansha Islands, over which China was the first to exercise sovereignty and that exercise has been ongoing. Before the 1930s, there was no dispute over China’s ownership of them, as reflected in many maps and encyclopedias published around the world.
Beginning in the 20th century, western colonial powers kept coveting the Nansha Islands as they colonized Southeast Asia and invaded China. Japan was the first to have seized some of the islands in the South China Sea, including the Nansha Islands in 1939. In December 1946, a year after the defeat of Japan, China sent warships to occupy the Nansha Islands. In 1947, the Ministry of the Interior of China’s Nationalist government renamed the islands, islets and sandbanks, including those of the Nansha Islands, historically under China’s jurisdiction in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the Nationalist government officially published a chart of its territorial waters that China had owned in the South China Sea demarcated by an eleven-dash line.
Since mid-1950s, the Philippines and South Vietnam started their encroachment of the Nansha Islands. In the late 1960s, the US and a number of UN survey agencies discovered rich oil and gas reserves on the continental shelve of the South China Sea.
Greatly incentivized by a high potential for resource exploration,Vietnam and the Philippines set their sights on islands and reefs in the Nansha Islands. At the same time, these countries dramatically altered their original stance on the issue of the Nansha Islands. By formulating national laws of the sea and issuing political statements, they officially asserted sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and made claims on the territorial waters surrounding the Nansha Islands.
China, based on its historical ownership of these islands and widely-recognized international documents, consistently defended its indisputable sovereignty over them as it had done in the past. On the other hand, China decided to copy here its policy of “setting aside dispute and pursuing joint development”, for the sake of cooperation and regional stability. However, China made clear this did not mean renouncing its sovereignty over Nansha Islands.
China and ASEAN countries engaged themselves in many rounds of difficult negotiations on the Declaration on the Conduct of enties in the South China Sea (DOC), which directed much attention to preventing escalation of disputes with the main purpose to prevent further act of occupying and controlling islands.
In nearly ten years after the introduction of the DOC, China was the only keen abider of the document. It refrained from taking actions that might escalate the dispute in the South China Sea, and kept pushing for peace and cooperation and joint development in disputed areas. By contrast, Vietnam, the Philippines and some other ASEAN countries were half-hearted about the DOC. They kept on transforming and expanding occupied islands, reinforcing their administrative management of them, and accelerated the development of oil and gas in surrounding waters.
[Ms FU Ying is Chairperson of Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress; Chairperson of Academic Committee of China’s
Institute of international Strategy, CASS; and Specially Vice Chairperson of China Center for International Economic Exchanges. Mr. WU Shicun is Ph.D Senior Research fellow and President of the National Institute of the South China Sea Studies.]
In 2009, the Philippines’ Parliament adopted the Territorial Sea Baselines Bill, which claims China’s Huangyan Island and some islands and reefs in the Nansha Islands as Philippine territory.
tional Institute of the South China Sea Studies.]