WikiLeaks cable: China can't prove Spratlys claim

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Apr 20 2012 10:07 PM | Updated as of Apr 21 2012 06:07 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Chinese authorities have failed to identify specific historical evidence backing Beijing's claims that it owns disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea, a confidential US embassy cable published by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said.

Cable 08BEIJING3499, sent to Washington by the US embassy in Beijing in September 9, 2008, said a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) official and a local scholar could not identify specific historical records to justify China's "Nine Dashes" claim that covers the whole Spratlys and areas within other countries' exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

MFA Department of Treaty and Law Oceans and Law of the Sea Division Deputy Director Yin Wenqiang told a US embassy political officer on August 30, 2008 that "China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters."

However, the US official said "Yin admitted he is not aware of the historical basis for the 'Nine Dashes'" and only mentioned unspecified "Chinese historical documents" that indicate the basis for China's claims on territory west of the Philippines, according to the cable.

The US official also talked to Beijing University Asia scholar Yang Baoyun about China's claims.

Yang said China's claims "date back to ancient times, prior to the development of the modern nation-state."

"Neither MFA's Yin nor Beijing University's Yang could specify a historical document that indicated the basis for the demarcation of the 'Nine Dashes'," the cable added.

Yang referred to a 2000 MFA "white paper" on the Spratlys. "However, the white paper devotes little attention to the history of the "Nine Dashes," providing, for example, only vague references to areas frequented by Chinese fisherman from Hainan," the memo said.

China skirts UN pact

Although China is a signatory to the 1982 UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), it will not attempt to verify its claims before the mechanism, said the MFA official as quoted by the US memo.

"China will not refer its SCS [South China Sea] claim to dispute settlement procedures established in UNCLOS,  because, Yin said, 'it is not in China's tradition' to submit  to such compulsory or binding decision mechanisms," the cable said.

"When queried as to why China acceded to UNCLOS, Yin commented that China became a signatory nation because neighboring countries in the SCS joined, and China believes its SCS claim is not threatened by UNCLOS," it added.

While China declared a 12-nautical-mile baseline around the Paracel Islands and along its mainland coast in 1996,  Yin said his government China has no plans to declare a baseline around any of the Spratly Islands, the memo revealed.

The Chinese official said his country's claim "came much earlier than UNCLOS"  and "UNCLOS cannot clarify everything."