Wall Street Journal on April 21, 2015, reported on the geopolitics of the South China Sea and the existing territorial claims…it is now on the front lines of U.S.-China strategic rivalry. There is also the claim to Spratly Islands by “Admiral” Tomas A. Cloma Sr., a Philippine fishing magnate…Excerpts below:
As it is, the micronation he set up in 1956 among the Spratly Islands he claimed to have discovered—the “Free Territory of Freedomland”—is an important link in a chain of events that is now causing regular diplomatic fireworks over those far-flung reefs and rocks.
…it is the basis for Manila’s present-day claims to the Spratlys. China disputes those claims, along with those from four other rivals, and is reinforcing its own claims by churning up the seabed and using the sand and rubble to balloon the bits of territory it controls there.
The South China Sea is where Chinese naval and law enforcement armadas run up against the U.S. Seventh Fleet. Accidents can—and do—happen.
Rhetoric is ratcheting higher all the time. President Obama accused China a few weeks ago of using “sheer size and muscle” to get its own way. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman retorted that Beijing’s actions are “beyond reproach.”
Some who have laid claim to reefs in the Spratlys
• The “Free Territory of Freedomland” was set up in 1956 by Tomas A. Cloma Sr., who claimed to have discovered some islands in the Spratlys. This is the basis for Manila’s present-day claims.
• The “Kingdom of Humanity” was established in 1914 by Franklin N. Meads, the son of a British ship captain who claimed to have discovered the Spratlys, according to a legal affidavit.
• The breakaway “Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads” was founded in 1959 by Christopher Schneider, according to a legal affidavit. (The Kingdom of Humanity and the Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads were merged in 1963.)
Over the years, other private claimants than Cloma have sought to plant flags over the monsoon-whipped archipelago. In 1914, Franklin N. Meads, the son of a British ship captain who also purported to have discovered the Spratlys, established the “Kingdom of Humanity,” according to a legal affidavit. A breakaway “Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads” was founded in 1959 by one Christopher Schneider.The two entities merged in 1963.
Bizarre as all this may appear, it’s arguably no more far-fetched than China claiming the Spratlys partly on the strength of sovereignty established by Ming Dynasty seafarers. Historians point out that the concept of sovereignty didn’t even exist then: Countries with fixed borders were a 17th-century European invention.
Besides, Arab and Southeast Asian traders were plying the South China Sea long before the Chinese arrived.
The Vietnamese approach in the South China Sea, meanwhile, also smacks of opportunism. Hanoi appeared to recognize Chinese sovereignty over the Spratlys and the Paracel Islands in 1958, but later changed its mind and claimed them back
For decades, the Spratlys were regarded as little more than navigational hazards until the discovery of oil and gas suddenly enhanced their value. That triggered a free-for-all in the 1980s as rival claimants built fortifications on minuscule outcrops. China is now following that playbook.
There’s no easy way out of this mess. It’s questionable whether the U.S. can ever act as an honest broker, even though it claims to be neutral. The disputes are now mixed up in America’s broader fears that China seeks to push its forces out of the Western Pacific. In China, the issue is too deeply enmeshed in the politics of nationalism. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea is silent on the question of who owns what; it concerns itself solely with maritime rights.
What’s urgently required, as former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd argued last week in a Harvard study, is a regional security organization that can mediate such disputes. China, however, has ruled out multilateral solutions. Frightened neighbors have joined an arms race.