‘Who lost the West Philippine Sea?’ | Inquirer Opinion
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‘Who lost the West Philippine Sea?’

/ 12:09 AM June 06, 2017

This could be the question that will haunt us in our old age. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio asked the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Monday to imagine that moment, years from now, when our children and grandchildren will sit us down and ask us: “Who lost the West Philippine Sea to China?”

It is our “civic duty,” Carpio said, to raise the alarm today about the imminent loss of our territory and our waters, to forge a national consensus on what needs to be done, and to defend the West Philippine Sea.

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What is at stake in the dispute with China, and in Beijing’s continuing disregard of the July 12, 2016, arbitral tribunal ruling? In his “The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea” (the e-book is available online, free of charge), Carpio added up the costs: The Philippines stands to lose “about 80 percent” of its exclusive economic zone (“including the entire Reed Bank and part of the Malampaya gas field”) and “100 percent” of its extended continental shelf (about 150,000 square kilometers of maritime space). Altogether, China’s claim to most of the South China Sea “encroaches on over 531,000 sq km of Philippine EEZ and ECS, including all the fishery, oil, gas, and mineral resources found within this vast area, which is larger than the total land area of the Philippines …” Carpio does not mince words: “This Chinese aggression is the gravest external threat to the Philippines since World War II.”

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Bill Hayton, the BBC journalist who is a leading expert on the South China Sea disputes, recently tweeted a link to a new article in the “Journal of Modern Chinese History.”

“The Origins of the South China Sea issue” is by Li Guoqiang, who is identified in the journal as “vice director of the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.” Perhaps not coincidentally, CASS publishes the journal.

Hayton’s one-tweet review is brutal: “Li Guoqiang demonstrating the intellectual bankruptcy of official Chinese history of the South China Sea. ‘Nonsense on stilts’.”

He points to his “favorite” among Li’s “ridiculous statements”: “For example, in 1791, British Captain Henry Spratly ‘discovered’ Mischief Reef in the Nansha Islands and named it after his German crewman Mischief.”

Set aside the mention of Mischief (the claim that the reef was named after a “German” crew member named Heribert Mischief seems dubious) or of the use of “Henry” (in fact, Captain Spratly’s name was Richard). But the man who gave his name to the Spratly Islands was born in 1802.

This ridiculousness is repeated in a propaganda website like www.spratlys.org (“Spratly Islands—China’s precious pearls in the South Sea!”), where the “timeline” asserts that “Captain Spratle arrived in the group and named the islands by his name” in 1791—11 years before he was born!

This is the kind of thinking that supports the aggressive Chinese posturing in the South China Sea. Just imagine if, rather than merely acknowledging Chinese military might, President Duterte’s scathing tongue were directed at this and other fallacies. Mischief abroad!

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Allow me a short note, of gratitude.

My tour of duty as editor in chief of Inquirer.net, the online affiliate of the Inquirer, came to an end on May 31. It was a real privilege to work with some of the country’s best, most committed journalists—and a great gift to see that commitment rewarded by a doubling in the size of our audience. I am back full-time in PDI, and I think the better journalist for the experience.

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Another note, of congratulations. Rene Reinoso is the Inquirer’s chief operating officer. An Inquirer original who knows the nuts and bolts of the newspaper business, he is one of those who helped build the Inquirer into what it is—a long way from the newspaper’s early days when, as he recalls it, “we had to borrow [from our dealers], we had our salaries on instalment basis, I think we had our salaries four times a month.” His tour of duty as Inquirer’s head of marketing was short, but because of his “cornerstone” approach to both marketing and management, which emphasizes “empathy and insight,” last week he was named a Mansmith Market Master awardee. A fitting tribute.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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