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The Philippines and China: The West Philippine Sea dispute

Six nations – China and five ASEAN countries, including the Philippines – have conflicting territorial and maritime claims on the South China Sea.

Justice Antonio Carpio, in his primer "The South China Sea Dispute" said the primary driver of the dispute in the South China Sea is the 9-dashed Lines Map adopted by the Kuomintang Government in China in December 1947.

China is claiming “indisputable sovereignty” to all the islands and  waters  enclosed by the nine U-shaped lines that enclose 85.7 percent of the entire South China Sea.

Carpio said China's claim to these waters, equivalent to 3 million square kilometers out of the sea's 3.5 million square kilometers surface area of the South China Sea, has triggered several disputes that include, among others:

  • territorial disputes in the Spratly Islands between the Philippines, China,  Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei;
  • territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal, and
  • maritime dispute between China on one side and on the other side, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia,  Brunei  and Indonesia  as these countries resist China’s  9-dashed Lines claim as it encroaches on their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZs).

These EEZs are covered by the United Nation's 1982 Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

On July 12, a UN arbitration tribunal is expected to issue a ruling on one of these disputes – the maritime case filed by the Philippines against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague – on whether the Philippines' rights to its EEZ under UNCLOS were violated by China.

The Philippines' EEZ is part of the "West Philippine Sea" that includes:

  • Luzon Sea;
  • Kalayaan Group of Islands in Palawan, and
  • the Panatag Shoal (called internationally as Scarborough Shoal and Huangyan Island by China).

Panatag Shoal's old Spanish name was Bajo de Masinloc, meaning lower Masinloc. It is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales in the South China Sea and is part of the municipality of Masinloc, Zambales.

The shoal, made up of a triangular chain of rocks and coral reefs, is a fertile fishing ground located within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

However, China took control of Panatag Shoal in 2012 and built an artificial island in the Fiery Cross Reef, called Kagitingan Reef by the Philippines.

China also built a 55-meter-high lighthouse in Subi Reef, called Zamora Reef by the Philippines.

In 2013, the Philippines brought the maritime dispute before the PCA because of China's actions. China, however, insisted that it has historic rights that predates UNCLOS, citing the 9-dashed lines claim.

See the infographic below for a comparison of the Philippines' claim based on UNCLOS, and China's claim based on the 9-dashed lines map. — Veronica Pulumbarit and Jannielyn Ann Bigtas/RSJ, GMA News