Analysis: Beijing’s tough line vs. Manila in Panatag Shoal standoff
DAVID LAGUE, REUTERS May 25, 2012 9:52pm
HONG KONG—Alongside an armada of paramilitary patrol vessels and fishing boats, China has fired off a barrage of historical records to reinforce its claim over a disputed shoal near the Philippines in the South China Sea.
While this propaganda broadside makes it clear Beijing will take a tough line with Manila as a standoff over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal continues into a seventh week, the exact legal justification for China's claim and the full extent of the territory affected remain uncertain, according to experts in maritime law.
Like most of its claims to vast ...view middle of the document...
It is stepping up its military presence in the region as part of a strategic "pivot" towards Asia after more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The acrimonious confrontation over Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island in Chinese, began last month when Beijing ordered its civilian patrol vessels to stop the Philippines arresting Chinese fisherman working in the disputed area.
Beijing and Manila both claim sovereignty over the group of rocks, reefs and small islands about 220 km (132 miles) from the Philippines.
The Philippines says the shoal falls within its 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ), giving it the right to exploit the natural resources in this area.
Song Dynasty records
In a concerted response from Beijing, official government spokesmen, senior diplomats and reports carried by influential state-controlled media outlets have drawn on the histories of earlier dynasties to rebut Manila's claim.
They say the records show China's sailors discovered Huangyan Island 2,000 years ago and cite extensive records of visits, mapping expeditions and habitation of the shoal from the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) right through to the modern period.
To back up these arguments, China has also deployed some of its most advanced paramilitary patrol vessels to the shoal in a calibrated show of strength, for now keeping its increasingly powerful navy at a distance.
A Philippines government spokesman said on Wednesday China had almost 100 Chinese vessels at the shoal, including four government patrol ships. Earlier, Manila demanded that all Chinese vessels leave the area.
China's Foreign Ministry responded on Wednesday that only 20 Chinese fishing boats were in the area, a normal number for this time of the year, and they were operating in accordance with Chinese law.
Maritime lawyers note Beijing routinely outlines the scope of its claims with reference to the so-called nine-dashed line that takes in about 90 percent of the 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea on Chinese maps.
This vague boundary was first officially published on a map by China's Nationalist government in 1947 and has been included in subsequent maps issued under Communist rule.
While Beijing has no difficulty in producing historical evidence to support its territorial links to many islands and reefs, less material is available to show how it arrived at the nine-dashed line.
In a September, 2008 US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, the US Embassy in Beijing reported that a senior Chinese government maritime law expert, Yin Wenqiang, had "admitted" he was unaware of the historical basis for the nine dashes.
In a March, 2008 cable, the embassy reported that a senior Chinese diplomat, Zheng Zhenhua, had handed over a written statement when asked about the scope of this boundary.
"The dotted line of the South China Sea indicates the sovereignty of China over the islands in the...