Friday, July 13, 2018

Justice Carpio and China’s nine-dash-line ‘lie’

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Justice Carpio and China’s nine-dash-line ‘lie’
The Manila Rimes TMT 
July 3, 2018


IN 1995, China seized Mischief Reef in the West Philippine Sea from the Philippines. By 2012, Scarborough Shoal was taken. Philippine military authorities, long fearing China’s aggressive expansionist ambitions, predicted this would happen. Gen. Jose T. Almonte, President Ramos’ national security adviser, warned that China would use the shoal as one of three air and naval bases from which nuclear-armed submarines would operate. Justice Antonio T. Carpio called the triangle of Chinese military bases “a dagger pointed at Manila.” In the summer of 2015, the Philippines, through the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), took China to court in The Hague. On July 12, 2016, in a stunning victory, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and upheld its key claims to territorial sovereignty. Carpio called China’s historical assertions “lies.”

Covering 2 million square kilometers of sea and stretching southwards in the direction of Borneo, China’s so-called nine-dash line claims every rock, shoal, reef and islet that lie in the South China Sea. China argues that this expanse of water and all it contains has belonged to China since at least the 3rd century. Five governments in particular contest this claim — Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippines. China takes a belligerent stance. It flexes its muscles and says, by way of explanation, that there is an “abundance of historical facts,” without specifying what those facts are.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio is an eminent member of the Supreme Court. He is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law and was appointed Chief Presidential Legal Counsel in 1992 by then President Ramos. He has devoted his entire career to Philippine jurisprudence. He is no historian. Yet he has done the hard spadework that Filipino historians should have done.

In 2014, Carpio spoke at De La Salle University. Under international law, he began, historical facts relating to travel, discovery, exploration, and imperial conquest in ancient times to the period known as the “Golden Age of Discovery,” from the 15th century until around the end of the 18th century, have no bearing in the resolution of modern maritime disputes. With this caveat, Carpio undertook a most instructive academic exercise to prove China wrong. He simply would not tolerate China’s cavalier attitude toward the Philippines.

In his paper titled “Historical Facts, Historical Lies, and Historical Rights in the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio’s Philippine history in relation to China begins around 892 AD, when, he says, early Filipino traders were already sailing back and forth from the Philippines to China in their balangays [sea-faring wooden boats] to trade, more than 400 years before the Chinese Imperial Admiral Zeng He launched his famous sea voyages from 1405 to 1433 AD.

Historians, however, speculate that trading activities between China and the southern sea occurred much earlier, since at least the 3rd century BCE when Nan Yüeh traders of the southern provinces of China (modern-day Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan) and northern Vietnam (including Hanoi) were finding their way to the Moluccas and returning with clove. Early exploring missions undertaken during the reign of Emperor Wu (141-87 BCE) may have also intended to trade in the Sulu Archipelago, the latter being the string of islands situated in present-day southern Philippines.

Throughout the late first millennium, the Philippine archipelago was linked to an international trading system that involved Borneo, Java, the Maluku islands, Champa, and China. It supplied gold ore, forest and marine products in exchange for ceramics and silk, principally Chinese, and base and precious metals. The timber of the earliest balangay boat has been dated to between AD 150 and 650. The craft traversed the archipelago’s waters to the Visayas where they took in cargoes of earthenware and slaves; probably journeyed south to the Sulu zone where the nomadic seafarers, the Samal-Laut and the Bajaus traded in pearls, tortoise shells, tripang or bêche-de-mer, and mother-of-pearl; and then followed the Agusan River into Mindanao’s forests and mountains to trade with the Manobo and Maranaw peoples.

Carpio’s next consideration is maps. He examines three types — maps of China executed by Chinese authorities and foreigners, dating from the 12th century to the early 19th century, and mid-17th and 18th century maps of the Philippines by Westerners and Philippine authorities. Carpio’s main contention is that “China has no historical link whatsoever to Scarborough Shoal.” The shoal, also known as Panacot and Bajo de Masinloc, appear in the latter maps as “consistently” belonging to the Philippines, he writes.

Carpio draws attention to the map entitled Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas, dated 1734 by the Jesuit Pedro Murillo Velarde. Engraved by Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay and decorated by Francisco Suarez, both of whom were Filipinos, the Murillo map is strewn with galleon trading ships and Chinese junks. It offers a graphic expression of Jesuit economic interests. The cartouche on the upper right corner, enumerates the islands’ alleged natural resources, including gold, pearls, cinnamon, indigo, medicinal herbs and the New World plants, cacao and tobacco. Around the map are vivid depictions of the cosmopolitan trading communities in the islands, agricultural practices and cultivation of useful plants. Carpio claims that this “is the oldest map that gives a name to Panacot shoal.”

Carpio surveyed several millennia worth of Philippine history to conclude that “not a single country in the world recognizes, respects, tolerates, or acquiesces to China’s nine-dash line claim.” It is, he writes, in its face a gigantic historical fraud. Chinese trading activity has been going on since antiquity, longer than Carpio suggests. But he is right to state that China did not historically assert possession of the southern seas.

Carpio’s history-writing is sophisticated, courageous, to an extent flawed, and driven by a sense of patriotic defiance against the lies of a mighty foreign power. But the country’s hard-fought historic arbitral award that Carpio helped to achieve, and which he passionately believed in, has been utterly squandered.

In a dramatic turnaround of policy, President Duterte disregarded the ruling. Instead, Duterte has adopted a position of appeasement and deference toward China. He has permitted the build-up of Chinese militarization in the West Philippine Sea, the unrestricted entry of Chinese nationals (reportedly 3 million, to ostensibly work in gaming casinos), and, by accepting Chinese loans at sky-high rates of interest, is pushing the country into a sinkhole of debt.

Carpio confronted China’s barefaced lies. But our worst enemy, it turns out, is a backstabbing president.

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