Monthly Archives: March 2014

In response to ‏@billthesceptic’s article on SCMP


Bill Hayton@billthesceptic Mar 17

My personal response to above message from @billthesceptic to me on Twitter:

Thank you for your suggestion for me to read your insight opinion published on South China Morning Post website. I appreciate your effort in checking and writing on the above topic.  While there is some guess in your published opinion, in my personal knowledge I would like to point out a few things:

1. Your article’s title is “How a non-existent island became China’s southernmost territory”  – this statement itself is half correct (or half incorrect): while China regards James Shoal as its southernmost territory, it doesn’t see it as and island, thus it is not regarded as an “non-existent island” because everyone is clear it is not an island. It is “Zengmu Ansha”, the name used since 1947 and correctly corresponds to the feature’s English name James Shoal.

2. While discussing, referring, and studying about the Spratly Islands, for long time people (including laymen and academics and political persons) have tended to regard this as a group in their reference to it. You effort to single out the Zengmu Ansha and discuss about its property and rights based on today’s understanding is nothing wrong, but is not so helpful regarding the overall dispute solving. Please do not forget that not far north of Zengmu Ansha, there are a few other features like the South and North Luconia Shoals which are also included in the Chinese government maps in 1935, 1946 and 1947.

3. China has regarded the Spratly Islands features as territory belonging to itself and published maps in 1935, and revised in 1947 to announce sovereignty over these island features. I am not sure at that time, before United Nations Conventions on the Law of Seas existed, these type of territory like “Shoal” was regarded as a territory and should be regarded as “territory” or not then. But judging a shoal as non-territory today is  somewhat unfair to something then. Some more, the dispute is not settled today so no conclusion is accepted universal yet.

4. Regarding your guess and opinion that “The most likely answer seems to be that it was probably the result of a translation error.”  There is something I can share with you: long before the English name “James Shoal” or “Tseng-mu shoal” was made, Chinese fishermen from Hainan have been calling this place as Shapai [“沙排”] which is a correct description of this type of feature – a coral reef which does not surface out of the water level even during low tide.  While I have not researched on the detailed process how the 1935 Land and Water Investigation Map Committee gave names to these islands, reefs, shoals and I will not say a conclusion based on guessing. However in 1947 the revised name correctly corresponds “Ansha” to shoal and the name has been used since then till this date. In fact the names revising was an ongoing process as more knowledge was gained, even in 1983 some more changes were made, Chinese finshermen’s “更路簿” (Clocked Route Book) and names given by the Chinese fishermen contributed to many of the names in Spratly Islands, even the British, Japanese used names called by the Chinese fishermen working in the area or on the islands.  Many of the English names were translation from Hainanese dialect itself.

5. Your claim that “By now, the translation error had become a fact, setting the region on course for conflict 80 years later.” is giving too much weight to the naming of Zengmu Ansha itself, whether it was a translation error in 1935 or not, and which was corrected in 1946 and 1947.

If China (ROC and then PRC) were powerful enough to safeguard its territory claim by stationing troops earlier than the later claimants like Philippines and Malaysia came in to claim because these islands are within “their 200nm EEZ”, or “proximity”, or like Thomas Cloma’s “discovery” claim in 1950s these were “terra nullius“, I believe it will be a much different picture today. And the same UNCLOS principles to be applied would be interpreted in another way , the correct way – these islands proper should be given their EEZ and thus the coastal countries like Philippines’ using EEZ to claim China’s islands will be too obviously a nonsense – yet so much favored in the country itself and supported by some biased media.

Events in Ren‘ai Jiao – Second Thomas Shoal

A post in response to @billthesceptic ‘s twitter message:


If it was just a plain link to the original news report itself, I would not reply to it.

The way the message was expressed provoked me that I had to reply to it.

The twitter message used the word “prioritises … grab … over hunt for missing aircraft”. One can simply tell the message is defaulting that China’s action is at wrong.

Let’s look into the facts first as conveyed in the Reuters news report itself.

According to the news press on 10th March 2014, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on 9th March during routine patrol nearby Ren’ai Jiao, the Chinese Coast Guard ship found two ships carrying construction materials and bearing Filipino flags trying to approach Ren’ai Jiao. The Chinese Coast Guard ship drove away these two ships via warning to them by speaker.

As we are aware on 8th March the MH370 airline went missing and many are deeply concerned about the whereabout of the missing MH370. As of 9th March China has sent a few ships and planned to send more ships to the area where MH370 was last known missing to search for it.

But the messages draws to the point that China prioritises “grab in South China Sea” over “hunt for missing aircraft” is simply too sided. China does have its Coast Guard ships routinely patrolling in the Ren’ai Jiao area and how should what it did on 9th March as regarded as “prioritising over the hunt for the missing aircraft”? It has every right to carry out its duty there, to protect its land.

Instead, should the Philippines be regarded as scheming and opportune in making their attempt to send construction materials to its “grounded” vessel in Ren’ai Jiao on this date?

I have done some research and found the following events regarding Ren’ai Jiao:

On 9th May 1999, the Philippines sent its Vessel 57 to Ren’ai Jiao and it was “grounded” there since because its bottom was leaking. If one can recall, on 8th May 1999 the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia was bombed by US and it was a darkest moment in Chinese diplomacy and whole China was like in Chaos and probably no one was paying attention to the Philippines action then. How smart they were!

One can also recall that in 1972 when Taiwan was replaced by Mainland China in the UN, the Philippines quickly sent its troops to snatch Thitu Island and a few other features in the Spratlys from Taiwan’s control.

Anyway, coming back to Ren’ai Jiao, since the Philippines ship was “grounded” there has been constant diplomatic argument between China and the Philippines and according Chinese Foreign Minsitry’s news press, the Philippines has promised to remove the grounded ship from Ren’ai Jiao but didn’t carry out its promise using technical excuses.

Actually back in May 2013 the Philippines  had promised they would not try to send construction materials again, but would only send food supply there.

Chinese Foreign Minsitry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on 1st July 2013 told at the press that the Philippines has clearly explained to China that due to “lack of spare parts” they could not tow away the ship and “the Philippines also didn’t want to be the first one to revoke the Declaration of Conduct in South China Sea”.

If this time the Philippines is just sending food supply to the “grounded” ship, it might not catch much attention, but they were trying to send concrete and rebar. As reported later the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs issued a brief and this is the first time that the Philippine government openly admitted that the BRP Sierra Madre was intentionally positioned at the shoal.  So all the previous excuses for “grounding” and “unable to tow away the ship” become so obvious now.


While I understand the Spratlys in the South China Sea are disputed, and I do expect to see some objective reports from trustworthy media resources like BBC (not CNN) reporters, too often we see the prejudiced or sided media reports, and China is defaulted as the wrong side no matter what it does.

Here I actually want to say I couldn’t really organize my thoughts well in the above post because I am not a native English speaking person and my lack of skills in debating in such way. Sometimes I feel so bad about myself that I cannot express my thoughts well in English but when I am thinking in my native language, it is so simple and straightforward all these kind of prejudices are just so unreasonable.

[updated: 18 Mar 2013 07:50 GMT+8: correction Code of Conduct in South China Sea to Declaration of Conduct in South China Sea