Name Change Could Foster Talks

Critics say South China Sea implies Chinese ownership of the disputed waters.

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termsakchalermpalanupap305.jpg Termsak Chalermpalanupap speaks at a conference on maritime security in Washington, June 20, 2011.

An official from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has suggested that changing the name of the South China Sea may help kick-start negotiations to resolve a longstanding maritime territorial dispute among China and five other Asian states.

“Maybe what we should do for a start is to change the name. Call it the Friendship Sea or Sea of Peace. I think then we can start negotiating,” said Termsak Chalermpalanupap, Director of ASEAN’s Political and Security Directorate.

The Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, all maintain various claims to parts of the South China Sea, and to its island chains, including the hotly-disputed Spratly and Paracel islands.

Several nations use a different name domestically that supports its stake in the resource-rich sea.

In Vietnam, where citizens have held rare protests in recent weeks over naval incidents they say were initiated by Chinese actions in the South China Sea, officials refer to the body of water as the “East Sea.”

In the Philippines, officials in Manila refer to the sea as the “West Philippine Sea,” while Beijing simply refers to it as the “South Sea.”

Termsak said at a Washington conference on maritime security that Southeast Asian nations have been reluctant to negotiate with China because Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea.

“The problem is that from the Chinese side, everything belongs to China and whoever has an overlapping claim will have to negotiate with China. And that’s why [there is a need for] a bilateral approach,” he said.

“But from what I’ve heard from the claimants on the ASEAN side, they cannot go into bilateral [negotiations] because of the Chinese assumption that everything belongs to China. Certainly you can’t offer what you don’t own. The Chinese always believe that they own the whole South China Sea,” he said.

Termsak then suggested changing the name of the South China Sea as a prelude to any negotiations.

He proposed the use of a name for the sea that doesn’t imply outright Chinese ownership, saying it may allow other claimants to feel that they have more to bring to the negotiating table with Beijing.

Online petition

Meanwhile, an online campaign initiated by the California-based Nguyen Thai Hoc Foundation in November to change the name of the South China Sea to the “Southeast Asia Sea” is gaining support as citizens of Southeast Asian nations staking a claim to the waters have expressed concerns about China’s increasing assertiveness.

The campaign, which has a following on social media site Facebook, now boasts nearly 44,000 supporters who have signed a petition demanding the change.

The petition states that the UN has officially recognized the region and the name “Southeast Asia” and that “the countries of Southeast Asia encompass almost the entire South China Sea with a total coastline measuring approximately 130,000 kilometers (81,250 miles) long” compared to only 2,800 kilometers (1,750 miles) of coastline in southern China.

“The sea is not restricted to a specific country. It is a common heritage of mankind and has actually been used by the international community for centuries as the second most important water channel in the world,” it reads.

The petition has been sent to the Geographical Society of 10 countries, the Secretary General of the UN, the UN Atlas of the Oceans, and the presidents and prime ministers of 11 Southeast Asian countries.

Several claims

Last year, Washington said it was willing to back smaller Asian nations who felt threatened by China, which has pressed its sovereignty over the Spratlys and Paracels.

Washington is particularly concerned that China's increasingly assertive maritime ambitions could trigger conflicts in the region that could hurt access to one of the world's busiest commercial sea lanes.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has assured ASEAN that Beijing is committed to implementing an agreed blueprint for managing their overlapping claims to ownership of the islands.

The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, called DOC by diplomats, was inked in 2002 as a first step towards a binding code of conduct for Beijing and the 10-member ASEAN group, but the agreement has been gathering dust.

China has objected to a key component of a set of guidelines proposed by ASEAN for implementation of the agreement.

Four ASEAN claimants

China is against a paragraph that allows the four ASEAN claimants in the South China Sea—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam—to hold informal consultations among themselves prior to an ASEAN-China meeting, officials said.

Beijing insists that the Spratly issue does not concern the four ASEAN claimants collectively, or ASEAN as a group.

ASEAN and China pledged in the DOC to resolve their sovereignty disputes in a peaceful manner, without resorting to the use of force.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam have separate claims over parts of the Spratlys, while China claims all of the Spratlys and adjacent waters as well as other islands further south of China's nine dotted dashes on its official map, which form a U shape reaching down to Indonesia's Natuna Sea.

The Paracel Islands, like the Spratlys further south, are also claimed by both China and Vietnam. In 1976, China invaded and captured the islands from Vietnam.

Reported by Joshua Lipes.


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Jun 21, 2011 11:27 AM

I was wondering if people living in those spratly islands?

Jun 23, 2011 01:13 PM

Peter: China and Taiwan have nothing to back up their claims.

Peter :
The article is wrong that only China claim all of Spratly. Vietnam and Taiwan claim all as well

Jun 22, 2011 04:54 AM

Earlier a reader had submitted a comment about Pag-asa island in the Spratly chain which is administered by Kalayaan municipality as part of the Philippines' Palawan province. We could not publish the comment because it included a link (from Wikipedia).

According to the Wikipedia entry, a population survey conducted in 2000 counted 223 residents of Kalayaan in 12 households. The island receives monthly deliveries of supplies from a Filipino Navy vessel. The Filipino government is actively trying to develop the island and move more citizens there.

It should be noted that the island's ownership remains disputed and that the Wikipedia article lacks citations, though the author has included a list of references.

Jun 23, 2011 01:26 PM

Joshua Lipes: The petition started on May 10th, 2010.

Jun 22, 2011 12:01 AM

According to the CIA World Factbook, the Paracel islands have no indigenous inhabitants, though there are scattered garrisons inhabited by Chinese military personnel. The Spratlys also have no indigenous inhabitants, but are home to scattered garrisons operated by military personnel of several claimant states.

Jun 22, 2011 03:05 AM

any primary shool student understand that South China sea does not mean China Sea and China sea does not mean that it belongs to China

Jun 22, 2011 09:52 PM

If South China Sea belongs to China, then Gulf of Mexico should belong to Mexico, Indian Sea belongs to India, Japan Sea belongs to Japan, North, Central and South Americas should belong to United States of America.

Jun 22, 2011 10:45 AM

UNCLOS states that every country with a coastline can claim 200 nautical miles from its farthest point. China's claim (ALL of S. China Sea) is ridiculous since its farthest coastline point cannot reach any part of the Spratly archipelago, unless China still considers Vietnam as 1 of its renegade province like Taiwan. LOL

Jun 22, 2011 02:45 AM

People need to make sure that there is no body living there. How can you claim it is yours if people live there? People should based their claim on fact; did they have their ancestor live etc? There might be no people live there but I am sure you can probably find some artifact left over that people live there before and settle the claim based on evidence.

Jun 23, 2011 01:29 PM

Childish reasoning!
"If South China Sea belongs to China, then Gulf of Mexico should belong to Mexico, Indian Sea belongs to India, Japan Sea belongs to Japan, North, Central and South Americas should belong to United States of America."

Jun 23, 2011 08:51 AM

The map clearly demonstrates the bullish manner of China government, unless a person is blind. Possible. What a way to show off its power. LOL.

Jun 22, 2011 05:39 AM

The article is wrong that only China claim all of Spratly. Vietnam and Taiwan claim all as well

Jun 25, 2011 12:29 AM

yup, change the name to southeast asia sea is a correct name...sounds nice, not bully ! likes the abused South china Sea.