An issue that justifies war | Inquirer Opinion

An issue that justifies war

/ 05:29 AM June 21, 2011

We condemn any actions that increase military tensions over the conflicting claims of various countries to the Spratly Islands. We are opposed to any saber-rattling and stand for a negotiated, political settlement of the disputes. We also deplore China’s strong-arm tactics and bullying, which undermine efforts toward a peaceful, political settlement of the disputes.

The Spratly Islands hold significant reserves of oil and natural gas—17.7 billion tons of oil and natural gas, larger than the 13 billion tons held by Kuwait, making it the fourth largest reserve bed in the world. The region is also one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.


The history of the various claims is lengthy and contorted. Malaysia has occupied three islands it considers to be within its continental shelf. Swallow Reef has been turned into an island by reclamation and the establishment of tourist facilities. China and Taiwan claim that the islands have historically been a part of China for nearly 2,000 years, discovered during the Han Dynasty in 2 BC. Vietnam disputes China’s claims, saying that ancient Chinese records are about non-Chinese foreign territories, and that China did not claim sovereignty over the Spratlys until after World War II. Vietnam currently occupies 31 islands, based on international law. Brunei’s claim is based on the United Nations Law of the Sea. Brunei says that the southern part of the Spratly chain is part of its continental shelf and therefore its territory and resources.

The Philippines bases its claims on res nullius and geography. Res nullius (literally “nobody’s property’) means there was no effective sovereignty over the islands until the 1930s when France and then Japan acquired the islands. According to the 1951 San Francisco Treaty between Japan and the Allied powers, Japan relinquished its sovereignty over the islands without any special beneficiary. Thus, the Philippines argues, the islands became available for annexation.


The Philippines did not register its claims until the 1970s and annexed the islands in 1978. The Philippines’ claim is based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea—the Spratlys lie within the country’s exclusive 200-mile economic zone.

We do not believe that the national sovereignty of the countries involved is at stake. National sovereignty is a legitimate issue only if there are national islanders, or an actual indigenous population inhabiting the islands, whose economic interests and culture historically coincide with the interests of a nation state. But this is not the case. Only a small number of military personnel occupy some of the islands. Sovereignty cannot be solely defined as authority over territories. To argue that national sovereignty is at stake is dangerous as it justifies the resolution of the disputes through war.


International Department,

Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM),

[email protected]

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TAGS: Brunei, China, Kuwait, Malaysia, Philippines, Spratly Islands, spratlys, Taiwan, territorial dispute, United Nations Law of the Sea, War
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