Vietnamese Back Philippines
Image Credit: Philippine Navy

Vietnamese Back Philippines


In a new twist this week to the stand-off between China and the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal, 66 Vietnamese, many of them well-known public figures in Vietnam and within the Vietnamese Diaspora, signed a letter to the Philippine Ambassador in Vietnam to express support for the Philippines’ “sovereign rights” in the continuing stand-off. The main points of the letter are:

1) Support for the “sovereign rights” of the Philippines in the Scarborough Shoal.

2) Opposition to China’s use of the “nine-dashed line”  to make overlapping claims with the Exclusive Economic Zones and continental shelves of the Philippines, Vietnam and other ASEAN countries, as well as opposition to “China’s actions and threats of force,” the latter presumably referring to articles in China’s state controlled press.

3) Support for the Philippines’ proposal to submit the dispute at Scarborough Shoal to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

The first interesting thing about the letter, to which I am a signatory, is that while supporting the Philippines, the letter stops short of taking sides on the question of sovereignty over the rocks at Scarborough Shoal. What it supports the Philippines on is the question of “sovereign rights,” which isn’t sovereignty over islands and rocks, but rights over the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

Does it make legal sense to support the Philippines on the question of rights over the EEZ and continental shelf without taking sides on the question of sovereignty over the rocks? Don’t the rights over the EEZ and continental shelf depend on sovereignty over territories, including islands and rocks? The answer lies in the fact that the rocks at Scarborough Shoal aren’t the only territories in this area; there’s also Luzon Island. It’s possible to argue that these rocks aren’t entitled to an EEZ beyond 12 nautical miles, therefore the EEZ in this area belongs to Luzon Island, regardless of whether the rocks belong to China or the Philippines, and regardless of the fact that they are disputed territory.

It’s evident that while both Vietnam and the Philippines feel most threatened by China’s “nine-dashed line,” those countries also feel that this line has a legal Achilles’ heel, which they seek to target with the concepts of UNCLOS such as EEZ, and of maritime delimitations, arguing that regardless of which country owns an island or rock, and of the fact that it might be disputed territory, the EEZ in certain areas belongs to larger landmasses.

The second interesting thing is that whoever drafted the letter chose not to use the conventional international name of “South China Sea.” Instead, they chose to use a combination of the Filipino and Vietnamese names, “West Philippine Sea/East Sea.” Are we about to see something similar to South Korea’s challenge to the conventional name “Sea of Japan”?

However, most interesting of all is the fact that this is the first time ever that members of the public in a country involved in the South China Sea disputes have expressed support for another in this way.

Still, perhaps this move shouldn’t come as a complete surprise given that in recent years most of the incidents in the South China Sea involve either China and Vietnam or China and the Philippines. With a common legal argument and facing a common, but much larger, opponent, there will likely be a tendency for the Vietnamese and the Filipinos to move towards a strategy of mutual support in the future.

Huy Duong contributes articles on the South China Sea to several news outlets including the BBC and Vietnam's online publication VietNamNet.

Earl Barnett
June 12, 2012 at 00:14

I welcome the cooperation of the Philippines and Vietnam, I have lived in both countries, knew people in America from both and I like people from both. I love both countries and they do not deserve to be run over by the rogue Gvt. of China. I hope the nations of the free world will step up on this, forget the PC crap of our papers and bureaucrats and do something right for a change.

Major Lowen Gil Marquez, Phil Army
June 11, 2012 at 22:24

One simple world,Scarborough shoal was owned by the Philippine and it is inside the Philippine archipelago position north of western Philippine sea.

June 1, 2012 at 06:21

UNLOS and ITLOS should be enough….not just a heresay blah2x from he who knows what dynasty that crappy claims comign from….not enough physical evidence.I will believe china if they are able to produce a deed of sale coming from Poseidon himself that they bought the scarborough and spratlys from him.hahahaha…

May 30, 2012 at 04:32

With this powerful and truthful argument here, if I were a Chinese blogger and had an iota of self-respect and self-esteem, I would find a hole on the ground, big enough to hide my shamefulness.

May 29, 2012 at 08:27

@ John Chan, scdad07, et al…

Still no logical response from my 4 main points of facts above? Yup, I did a double check and still nothing from all you guys and chinese posters. I wonder why.

Linh My
May 29, 2012 at 04:04


Thank you for a thoughtful and balanced post. Hopefully, the rants of the Chinese Sock Puppets here are being orchestrated as a bargaining tactic.

May 29, 2012 at 00:49

@John Chan
You present yourself as an intellectual and compassionate individual. But logical and courageous? I don’t think so. Instead of bashing out individuals who present facts, why not try to urge intellectual people like yourselves to use the power of internet in order to CLEAR the minds of your leaders.

No one wants conflicts but your leaders seem to… being greedy, meddling with other nations’ affairs like the US-Phil, Vietnam-India and Vietnam-Russia relations. Yes, your leaders can dictate to your people whose eyes are blindfolded and mouths are gagged, but not to the WORLD.

Chinese all over the world who are living in democracy should have ONE VOICE. How the world wish you as well as other Chinese be as courageous as Chen Guangcheng!

May 28, 2012 at 21:54

@john chang,

Observer is right China is “BULLY” and “ABUSER”, the world kwows it.

May 28, 2012 at 03:47

China cites history as its basis for claiming Philippine territory as theirs. Supposedly, they have a two thousand year old Han Dynasty map that indicates the limits of the Chinese empire which included the Philippines.

If such a map does exist, the Chinese government should show it to the world and prove that it is genuine and show wordings or other persuasive evidence to the effect that indicate that the Philippines and its surrounding waters in the West Philippine Sea was part of the Han Dynasty empire. The age of the map should be subjected to carbon 14 testing to check if it is genuine.

Rational people in the world, who are aware of China’s oil grab intentions – are leery of China’s “historical” arguments. They doubt that a Han Dynasty map indicating ownership of Philippine and other countries’ territories actually exist but that more likely than not, its supposed existence is just being used as a convenient excuse to grab oil and marine resources that belong to the Philippines and other neighboring countries.

China did not have this heightened interest in Philippine waters until it was discovered that these areas contained a tremendous amount of oil. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband gave China a carte blanche license to explore these areas in exchange for certain personal concessions. Okay, let’s call these kickbacks.

Conceivably, the Chinese government might be able to produce a map or two from the Han period but these may be nothing more than navigational maps. Ownership is a totally different thing.

Nowhere in the written or unwritten history of both China and the Philippines is there any indication that the Philippines was ever a province or a colony of China. There are factual indications that the Chinese have been visiting the Philippines since ancient times – but essentially to trade or in the case of Chinese pirates – to raid coastal villages.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that such a map exists. Let us even assume that the Chinese owned the Philippines and its surrounding waters during the Han Dynasty. Do these assumptions hypothetically mean that China still presently owns the Philippines or its surrounding waters?

When Magellan came to the Philippines and Spain took possession of the Philippines for almost 400 years, that meant that Spain certainly broke the continuity of any possible legal claim by China of ownership of the Philippines and its surrounding waters.

Nowhere was there any indication or protest from China that Spain was taking over their possession when the Spanish came to own the Philippines.

Then the Americans came and took ownership of the Philippines and its surrounding territorial waters when they defeated Spain in the Spanish-American war of 1898. In the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898, the United States paid Spain 20 million dollars for full ownership of the Philippines – lock, stock and barrel.

Again, there was not a single protest or claim from any Chinese government official or anyone for that matter that China had any rights to ownership of the Philippines and it’s surrounding waters.

On April 9, 1942, Japan took over ownership of the Philippines when American and Filipino forces surrendered in Bataan and Corregidor. No Chinese official ever said to Japan: “No, you can’t take over the Philippines because it is ours.”

On August 1, 1944, after being defeated by American forces, Japan surrendered the Philippines back to the United States – same story, no Chinese was claiming that the Japanese should have turned over the Philippines to China instead because of ownership issues.

On July 4, 1946, in the Treaty of Manila, the United States, grateful to Filipinos, for fighting side by side with Americans against the Japanese – ceded the Philippines back to Filipinos and the country became independent. As in previous situations, there was no indication from any Chinese official that the United States had no right to do this because China supposedly owned the Philippines and its surrounding waters.

Very clearly, China’s so called historical claim against the Philippines and its surrounding has no factual basis. Even from the point of view of geographical history – as far back as 50,000 years ago, the Scarborough Shoals and some of the Spratly Islands were already within 200 miles from the Philippines and some 600 miles from China. They have not physically moved nearer nor farther from both countries. They have always been so much nearer to the Philippines than China.

China is also claiming that Chinese fishermen have been fishing in waters surrounding the Philippines for ages and because of this history, these marine areas belong to them. But Filipinos have also been doing the same thing especially because these waters are very near the Philippines and hundreds of miles away from China.

Long before the Han Dynasty came into existence, the natives of the Philippines owned Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and the waters around these islands. China’s “first in time” argument that they have a rightful claim because they owned the Philippines some two thousand years ago is hardly persuasive.

Anthropologist determined that the Philippines started to be populated some 50,000 years ago. It’s not clear where these first settlers came from but some of their descendants 30,000 years ago were the Aetas, who are still with us today and are small, dark skinned and have round eyes. They and their ancestors clearly did not come from China. They owned the Philippines thousands of years before any individual from China stepped foot on Philippine soil. So, enough of this foolish first in time arguments from China’s officials.

From any kind of perspective – historical, legal or geographical – China cannot support its ridiculous claim to any territory within a 200 mile radius from the Philippines baseline. As I have repeatedly previously pointed out, China’s claim is as absurd as the Italian government claiming that practically the whole of Europe, parts of Africa and Asia – belong to Italy because these were once part of the Roman empire. The reality is that governments and national boundaries change through time.

It should be clear to any rational mind that the Chinese government is simply resorting to manufacturing lame excuses to justify its attempt to grab the valuable marine and energy resources of the Philippines and neighboring countries.

Certainly, China’s government is also aware of the absurdity of their so called historical claim and that they are simply playing mind games with the Philippines and other neighboring countries – to find an excuse for their resource grabbing ways.

China’s consistent refusal to bring its claim to the United Nation’s International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) by itself is a tacit admission that it cannot prove its so called historical claim before a proper neutral court. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), anything within a 200 mile radius from a country’s baseline is considered as within that country’s exclusive economic zone and belongs to that country.

However, China’s formidable military might is no match for the Philippines and other surrounding countries. Coercing and intimidating smaller countries with “might is right” arguments is the apparent course of action China has taken which can be its undoing in the long run.

Hitler’s Germany went along this direction using its military superiority to bully smaller countries like Austria, Poland, Hungary, Czecholovakia, Belgium, etc. Japan did the same thing. Both countries’ immoral policies caused so much suffering to other countries and to their own people in World War II which led to their eventual downfall.

In grabbing the resources of other nations by force, China is underestimating the force of moral authority. Other countries are not ignorant of the dishonest intimidation game that China is playing with its weaker neighbors and will seek to form formidable alliances for self defense strengthened by the righteousness of their cause.

If China engages in war, will the United States fight on the side of the Philippines?

Here’s my take on this:

Such a war will draw the United States and other nations against China. It will be obvious to the rest of the world that it is China who initiated this war. It would be a dangerous precedent to allow the hungry dragon to gobble up the oil and marine resources of smaller nations through bully tactics. This will encourage China to continue to repeatedly use similar tactics which threatens the security of other nations.

It is of significant note that Japan has offered patrol boats to the Philippines to protect Philippine waters against Chinese intrusion. This is obviously an overt expression of support from Japan.

South Korea and Australia have also indicated their willingness to supply the Philippines with certain military equipment.

Recently, a group of well respected academicians and intellectuals from Vietnam, one of them a former Ambassador – wrote
The Philippine Ambassador to Vietnam Jerril Galban Santos: “We fully support the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the Panatag Shoal area and the Philippines’ action to defend her sovereign rights.”

The thought expressed by these Vietnamese intellectuals reflect the attitude of the global community towards China’s gorilla policies. Most likely, many of China’s intellectuals abhor these self destructive policies. By using her military might to coerce neighbors in giving up possession of their resources, China’s government is creating enmity not only from without but also from within. China has many good people who recognize that their government’s immoral actions will cause the world to turn against them. Much dissension will increase from within if China continues on its erroneous ways.
As the leader of the world’s democratic countries, the United States cannot allow a communist country like China to overwhelm the Philippines by force. Moral imperatives and civilized behavior also compel other leading democracies to forbid China from using goliath tactics against a small democracy like the Philippines. Aside from those countries already mentioned, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, India and other U.S. allies will most likely also be involved against China if the U.S. gets into the fray.

Aside from its close historical ties with the Philippines which predisposes Americans coming to her aid in a war with China, the United States knows that American political and economic interests are also directly affected if China succeeds in forcibly taking over the Philippines and its resources. Being a former colony, the Philippines is its staunchest ally in Asia. It is also vital to American economic and military interests to keep the sea lanes in the area open and to have stability in the region.

There is an extraordinary reserve of goodwill and emotional ties between the American and Filipino people. Filipinos in general are also well liked the world over because of their gentle and smiling natures.

In case of attack by China, the United States is not only morally obligated to come to the aid of the Philippines in – it is also legally and politically obligated by formal treaty. U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas – have repeatedly given assurances that the U.S.will be true to this commitment.

The recent statement from the U.S. that it will not take sides in the legal dispute over territory is compelled by diplomatic considerations as it is urging China to take this matter to the United Nations for resolution. This is not the same as saying that the U.S. will not come to the aid of the Philippines if China attacks.

China prefers a bilateral one on one resolution of its territorial dispute with the Philippines where it can easily bulldozed the smaller nation into submission rather than bring the issue before the United Nations where the issue can be multilaterally and fairly resolved by member nations. The Philippines cannot allow itself to fall prey to China’s mind games and agree to an unequal bilateral resolution where one party’s limited bargaining power results in a marriage where the stronger party calls all the shots.

On June 28, 2011, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the increasing use of force by China against smaller nations in Southeast Asia and affirmed the use of U.S. military might should this become necessary.

The bottom line is that the U.S. and other nations will surely come to the aid of the Philippines if China resorts to war or military might to grab energy and marine resources.

If China is to gain the respect of the world, the Chinese government must act like a civilized nation and not like a brute whose main argument is the use of force. Perhaps China’s officials should reflect more on the teachings of its great humanist philosophers like Lao Tzu and Confucius who valued human rights and good relations with neighbors.

Fed up with Chinese Rhetorics
May 28, 2012 at 02:54

To all Chinese posters read up.

“The South China Sea in Southeast Asia is bordered by 7 countries: China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. The name of that water, like others such as Gulf of Mexico, Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, Gulf of Thailand, Philippines Sea, East China Sea and Sea of Japan, do not imply any notion of sovereignty because they were invented for convenience by European explorers.”

“Countries that had historical border with the Arctic Ocean formed the Arctic Council to divide the Arctic natural resources according to the rules of UNCLOS. China never had any historical border with the Arctic Ocean, yet China asked to join the Arctic Council in order to have a share of Arctic natural rersources, arguing that the Arctic Ocean is a “common heritage for all of humankind”. If the Arctic Ocean is a “common heritage for all of humankind”, then the South China Sea is a common heritage for all the peoples who live on its shores, not only for China.”

” The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia do not claim sovereignty over the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean even though their Austronesian ancestors were the first to navigate those waters. Norway does not claim sovereignty over the Norwegian Sea even though the Norsemen (Vikings) were the first to navigate that water to populate Iceland and Greenland in the 9th century. Portugal does not claim sovereignty over the water off the West African coast, the water around the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean even though Portuguese under Bartolomeu Diaz and Vasco da Gama were the first to navigate those waters in 1488 and 1498. Spain does not claim sovereignty over the Atlantic Ocean, the Magellan Strait and the Pacific Ocean even though Spaniards under Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan were the first to navigate those waters in 1492 and 1521. Russia does not claim sovereignty over the Bering Sea even though Russians under Vitus Bering were the first to navigate that water in 1741.”

Chinese history lessons are convoluted.

John Chan
May 27, 2012 at 13:11

scdad07 was asking for information, it seems he has not seen it yet; logically speaking there is no logical possibility for him to comprehend something he hasn’t read yet. But you bashed “Chinese, not scdad07, are unable to read or comprehense (comprehend?) anything logical.” You have committed a fatal error in a debate by using ad hominem fallacy.

Please tell me what is your logic to make a conclusion from a single blogger’s question to become a 1.3 billion people’s handicap? And can you comprehense something you have not read yet? If you cannot, what is your logic for you to expect others can? American Exceptionalism from a wannbe?

Using accomplices to support a theft’s claim is perjury in law, and committing conflict of interest in morality. Your link proves you have committed both crimes.

John Chan
May 27, 2012 at 12:42

All your points are your own opinions, they are your bigotry troll only, they cannot help Japan, Vietnam or Philippine to win anything. The only thing counts is what is going to happen in the South China Sea or to Diaoyu Islands. Your foul language and poor manner work negative against your presentation, it is very poor way to put forward your points.

Yes, when a nation is weak, its people suffered. But no nation can be on the top all the time, you are insulting dead people, it is really poor reflection on you and your nation, probably that’s way you never dare to show where you come from.

Being slaves and prostitutes under occupation happened to all nations including Japan, India, Vietnam and Philippines, Mongol, Britain, USA, … Your lack of sympathy to the victims under barbarism is rather shocking; it seems human beings has not changed much despite the advancements in democracy, and human rights the West proclaimed they brought to this world. Since you claim you represent the western democracies, it is sad and disappointing to see the ugliness behind their moral façade.

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