Scarborough Shoal
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Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough Shoal
Disputed island
Other names: Scarborough Reef
Huangyan Dao
Democracy Reef
Panatag Shoal
Panacot Shoal
Scarborough Shoal Landsat.jpg
Scarborough Shoal prior to the Chinese-imposed destruction of the reefs
Scarborough Shoal is located in South China Sea
Scarborough Shoal
Scarborough Shoal
LocationSouth China Sea
Coordinates15°11?N 117°46?E / 15.183°N 117.767°E / 15.183; 117.767Coordinates: 15°11?N 117°46?E / 15.183°N 117.767°E / 15.183; 117.767
Total islands2 islets with many reefs
Major islands1
Highest point
  • South Rock
  • 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in)
Claimed by
People's Republic of China
Prefecture-level citySansha, Hainan
Republic of China (Taiwan)

Scarborough Shoal, also known as Huangyan Dao,[1]Panatag Shoal (Filipino: Kulumpol ng Panatag),[2]Bajo de Masinloc (Spanish),[3] and Democracy Reef are two rocks[a] in a shoal located between the Macclesfield Bank and Luzon island in the South China Sea.

It is a disputed territory claimed by the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the Philippines. The shoal's status is often discussed in conjunction with other territorial disputes in the South China Sea such as those involving the Spratly Islands, and the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff. It formerly was administered by the Philippines, however, due to the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff, where China sent warships to invade the shoal, the administration of the shoal was taken by the People's Republic of China.[] It was initially expected for the United States to defend the territory of the Philippines during the standoff as the two nations had a Mutual Defense Treaty, however, the United States chose to move itself away from the tension, and used 'verbal protests' against China instead. The aftermath of the standoff ultimately strained Philippines-China relations and Philippines-United States relations, resulting in Filipino officials calling the United States an 'unreliable ally', a statement echoed by other nations. The event also solidified China's expansionist ideals in the Asia-Pacific region.[4][5][6] In 2013, the Philippines solely filed an international case against China in the UN-backed court in The Hague, Netherlands. In 2016, the court officially dismissed China's so-called "9-dash claim" in the entire South China Sea and upheld the Philippine claim.[7] China rejected the UN-backed international court's decision and sent more warships in Scarborough Shoal and other islands controlled by China.[8]

The shoal was named by Captain Philip D'Auvergne, whose East India Company East Indiaman Scarborough grounded on one of the rocks on 12 September 1784, before sailing on to China.[9][10]


Scarborough Shoal forms a triangle-shaped chain of reefs and rocks with a perimeter of 46 km (29 mi). It covers an area of 150 km2 (58 sq mi), including an inner lagoon. The shoal's highest point, South Rock, is 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) above sea-level at high tide. Located north of it[clarification needed] is a channel, approximately 370 m (1,214 ft) wide and 9-11 m (30-36 ft) deep, leading into the lagoon. Several other coral rocks encircle the lagoon, forming a large atoll.[2]

The shoal is about 198 kilometres (123 mi) west of Subic Bay. To the east of the shoal is the 5,000-6,000 m (16,000-20,000 ft) deep Manila Trench. The nearest landmass is Palauig, Zambales on Luzon island in the Philippines, 220 km (137 mi) due east.


A number of countries have made historic claims of the use of Scarborough Shoal. China has claimed that a 1279 Yuan dynasty map and subsequent surveys by the royal astronomer Guo Shoujing carried out during Kublai Khan's reign established that Scarborough Shoal (then called Zhongsha islands) were used since the thirteenth century by Chinese fishermen. However, no such 1279 map has been released by China to the public.[11]

Panacot shown off the coast of Central Luzon in the 1734 map

During the Spanish period of the Philippines, a 1734 map was made, which clearly named Scarborough Shoals as Panacot, a feature under complete sovereignty of Spanish Philippines. The shoal's current name was chosen by Captain Philip D'Auvergne, whose East India Company East Indiaman Scarborough briefly grounded on one of the rocks on 12 September 1784, before sailing on to China. When the Philippines was granted independence in the 19th century and 20th century, Scarborough Shoal was passed by the colonial governments to the sovereign Republic of the Philippines.[9][10]

The 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff between China and the Philippines led to a situation where access to the shoal was restricted by the People's Republic of China. The expected intervention of the United States to protect its ally through an existing mutual defense treaty did not commence after the United States indirectly stated that it does not recognize any nation's sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, leading to strained ties between the Philippines and the United States.[12] In January 2013, the Philippines formally initiated arbitration proceedings against China's claim on the territories within the "nine-dash line" that includes Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal, which it said is "unlawful" under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).[13][14] An arbitration tribunal was constituted under Annex VII of UNCLOS and it was decided in July 2013 that the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) would function as registry and provide administrative duties in the proceedings.[15]

On 12 July 2016, the arbitrators of the tribunal of PCA agreed unanimously with the Philippines. They concluded in the award that there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources, hence there was "no legal basis for China to claim historic rights" over the nine-dash line.[16] Accordingly, the PCA tribunal decision is ruled as final and non-appealable by either countries.[17][18] The tribunal also criticized China's land reclamation projects and its construction of artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, saying that it had caused "severe harm to the coral reef environment".[19] It also characterized Taiping Island and other features of the Spratly Islands as "rocks" under UNCLOS, and therefore are not entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.[20] China however rejected the ruling, calling it "ill-founded".[21] Taiwan, which currently administers Taiping Island, the largest of the Spratly Islands, also rejected the ruling.[22]

In late 2016, following meetings between the Philippine president Duterte and his PRC counterparts, the PRC "verbally" allowed Filipino fishermen to access the shoals for fishing, sparking criticism as "allowing" would mean China is implying that it owns the territory.[23] In January 2018, it was revealed that for every 3,000 pesos' worth of fish catch by Filipino fisherfolk, China took them in exchange for "two bottles of mineral water" worth 20 pesos.[24] In June 14, 2018, China's destruction of Scarborough Shoal's reefs surged to an extent which they became visible via satellites, as confirmed by the University of the Philippines Diliman.[25]

Land reclamation and other activities in the surrounding area

The shoal and its surrounding area are rich fishing grounds. The atoll's lagoon provides some protection for fishing boats during inclement weather.

There are thick layers of guano lying on the rocks in the area. Several diving excursions and amateur radio operations, DX-peditions (1994, 1995, 1997 and 2007), have been carried out in the area.[26]

At various times between 1951 and 1991, U.S. and Philippine military forces operating from Philippine bases routinely employed various types of live and inert ordnance at Scarborough Shoal for exercises and other training. It is possible that much of this expended ordnance remains on the ocean floor,[] posing a hazard to anyone attempting to disturb the shoal or the surrounding ocean areas.[] A CBS News expose revealed that fishermen here were more distressed by the pollution caused by the Masinloc thermal power plant and local Barangay corruption than by any PRC activities.[vague][27]

In July 2015, Filipino fishermen discovered large buoys and containment booms in Scarborough shoal, and assumed them to be of PRC origin. They were removed and towed back to the Philippine coast.[28] In March 2016, in its Scarborough Contingency plan, the CSIS Asia Maritime transparency Initiative reported that satellite imagery had shown no signs of any land reclamation, dredging or construction activities in Scarborough shoal.[29] Only one small Chinese civilian ship and two small Filipino trimaran fishing boats (bangkas) were seen, as has been normal for the past few years.[30]

In September 2016 during the ASEAN summit, the Philippine government claimed that a number of Chinese ships capable of land reclamation had collected at Scarborough shoal. This claim was denied by the PRC government.[31]

Also in September 2016, the New York Times reported that PRC activities at the Shoal continued in the form of naval patrols and hydrographic surveys.[32] The PRC navy restricted Filipino fishermen access to the shoal from 2012 until August 2016, at which time PRC authorities started to allow Filipino fishermen to resume fishing in the shoal after talks between the Philippine President Duterte and his Chinese counterparts.[23] However fishermen were prohibited from using dynamite fishing or other methods, including clam digging, that could harm the ecology of the reefs.[23]

In January 2017, the International Business Times reported the possibility of land reclamation at Scarborough shoal by the PRC. However, photos of the shoal posted by CSIS have, to date, not shown any evidence of reclamation activity.[23][33]

Sovereignty dispute

Claims by China and Taiwan

Map depicting the ROC and PRC's territorial claims in South China Sea, with Scarborough Shoal depicted within the Nine-dotted line of 1947. In contrast, the Philippine claim is backed by maps dated 1734.

The People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) claim that Chinese people discovered the shoal centuries ago and that there is a long history of Chinese fishing activity in the area. The shoal lies within the nine-dotted line drawn by China on maps marking its claim to islands and relevant waters consistent with United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) within the South China Sea.[34] An article published in May 2012 in the PLA Daily states that Chinese astronomer Guo Shoujing went to the island in 1279, under the Yuan dynasty, as part of an empire-wide survey called "Measurement of the Four Seas" (?), however, no such 13th century map has been made public by China nor such evidence on the existence of the map is known.[35] In 1979 historical geographer Han Zhenhua () was among the first scholars to claim that the point called "Nanhai" (literally, "South Sea") in that astronomical survey referred to Scarborough Shoal.[36] In 1980 during a conflict with Vietnam for sovereignty over the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands), however, the Chinese government issued an official document claiming that "Nanhai" in the 1279 survey was located in the Paracels.[37] Historical geographer Niu Zhongxun defended this view in several articles.[38] In 1990, a historian called Zeng Zhaoxuan () argued instead that the Nanhai measuring point was located in Central Vietnam.[39] Historian of astronomy Chen Meidong () and historian of Chinese science Nathan Sivin have since agreed with Zeng's position in their respective books about Guo Shoujing.[40][41]

In 1935, China, as the Republic of China (ROC), regarded the shoal as part of the Zhongsha Islands. That position has since been maintained by both the ROC, which now governs Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China (PRC).[42] In 1947 the shoal was given the name Minzhu Jiao (Chinese: ; literally: 'Democracy Reef'). In 1983 the People's Republic of China renamed it Huangyan Island with Minzhu Jiao reserved as a second name.[43] In 1956 Beijing protested Philippine remarks that the South China Sea islands in close proximity to Philippine territory should belong to the Philippines. China's Declaration on the territorial Sea, promulgated in 1958, says in part,

The breadth of the Territorial Sea of the People's Republic of China shall be twelve nautical miles. This applies to all territories of the People's Republic of China, including the Chinese mainland and its coastal islands, as well as Taiwan and its surrounding islands, the Penghu Islands, the Dongsha Islands, the Xisha Islands, the Zhongsha Islands, the Nansha Islands and all other islands belonging to China which are separated from the mainland and its coastal islands by the high seas.[44]

China reaffirmed its claim of sovereignty over the Zhongsha Islands in its 1992 Law on the territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone. China claims all the islands, reefs, and shoals within a U-shaped line in the South China Sea drawn in 1947 as its territory. Scarborough shoal lies within this area.[44]

China further asserted its claim shortly after the departure of the US Navy force from Subic, Zambales, Philippines. In the late 1970s, many scientific expedition activities organized by State Bureau of Surveying, National Earthquake Bureau and National Bureau of Oceanography were held in the shoal and around this area. In 1980, a stone marker reading "South China Sea Scientific Expedition" was installed on the South Rock, but was removed by Philippines in 1997.[26]

Claim by the Philippines

This is a 1774 reproduction of the 1734 map of the Philippine Islands depicting Scarborough Shoal as Panacot. In contrast, China and Taiwan's claims are backed by a map dated 1947.

The Philippines state that its assertion of sovereignty over the shoal is based on the juridical criteria established by public international law on the lawful methods for the acquisition of sovereignty. Among the criteria (effective occupation, cession, prescription, conquest, and accretion), the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has asserted that the country exercised both effective occupation and effective jurisdiction over the shoal, which it terms Bajo de Masinloc, since its independence. Thus, it claims to have erected flags in some islands and a lighthouse which it reported to the International Maritime Organization. It also asserts that the Philippine and US Naval Forces have used it as impact range and that its Department of Environment and Natural Resources has conducted scientific, topographic and marine studies in the shoal, while Filipino fishermen regularly use it as fishing ground and have always considered it their own.[45]

The DFA also claims that the name Bajo de Masinloc (translated as "under Masinloc") itself identifies the shoal as a particular political subdivision of the Philippine Province of Zambales, known as Masinloc.[45] As basis, the Philippines cites the Island of Palmas Case, where the sovereignty of the island was adjudged by the international court in favor of the Netherlands because of its effective jurisdiction and control over the island despite the historic claim of Spain. Thus, the Philippines argues that the historic claim of China over the Scarborough Shoal still needs to be substantiated by a historic title, since a claim by itself is not among the internationally recognized legal basis for acquiring sovereignty over territory.

It also asserts that there is no indication that the international community has acquiesced to China's historical claim, and that the activity of fishing of private Chinese individuals, claimed to be a traditional exercise among these waters, does not constitute a sovereign act of the Chinese state.[46]

The Philippine government argues that since the legal basis of its claim is based on the international law on acquisition of sovereignty, the Exclusive Economic Zone claim on the waters around Scarborough is different from the sovereignty exercised by the Philippines in the shoal.[45][47]

The Philippine government has proposed taking the dispute to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) as provided in Part XV of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but the Chinese government has rejected this, insisting on bilateral discussions.[48][49][50]

The Philippines also claims that as early as the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, Filipino fishermen were already using the area as a traditional fishing ground and shelter during bad weather.[51]

Several official Philippine maps published by Spain and United States in 18th and 20th centuries show Scarborough Shoal as Philippine territory. The 18th-century map "Carta hydrographica y chorographica de las Islas Filipinas" (1734) shows the Scarborough Shoal then was named as Panacot Shoal. The map also shows the shape of the shoal as consistent with the current maps available as today. In 1792, another map drawn by the Malaspina expedition and published in 1808 in Madrid, Spain also showed Bajo de Masinloc as part of Philippine territory. The map showed the route of the Malaspina expedition to and around the shoal. It was reproduced in the Atlas of the 1939 Philippine Census, which was published in Manila a year later and predates the controversial 1947 Chinese South China Sea Claim Map that shows no Chinese name on it.[52] Another topographic map drawn in 1820 shows the shoal, named there as "Bajo Scarburo," as a constituent part of Sambalez (Zambales province).[53] During the 1900s, Mapa General, Islas Filipinas, Observatorio de Manila, and US Coast and Geodetic Survey Map include the Scarborough Shoal named as "Baju De Masinloc."[54] A map published in 1978 by the Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, however, did not indicate Scarborough Shoal as part of the Philippines.[55] Scholar Li Xiao Cong stated in his published paper that Panacot Shoal is not Scarborough Shoal, in the 1778 map "A chart of the China Sea and Philippine Islands with the Archipelagos of Felicia and Soloo", Scarborough shoal and 3 other shoals Galit, Panacot and Lumbay were all shown independently. Li also pointed out that the three shoals were also shown on Chinese maps which were published in 1717.[56]

In 1957, the Philippine government conducted an oceanographic survey of the area and together with the US Navy force based in then U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay in Zambales, used the area as an impact range for defense purposes. An 8.3 meter high flag pole flying a Philippine flag was raised in 1965. An iron tower that was to serve as a small lighthouse was also built and operated the same year.[57][58] In 1992, the Philippine Navy rehabilitated the lighthouse and reported it to the International Maritime Organization for publication in the List of Lights. As of 2009, the military-maintained lighthouse is non-operational.[59]

Map showing territory claimed by the Philippines, including internal waters, territorial sea, international treaty limits and exclusive economic zone.

Historically, the Philippine boundary has been defined by its 3 treaties,[60][61]Treaty of Paris (1898), Treaty of Washington (1900) and "Convention regarding the boundary between the Philippine Archipelago and the State of North Borneo". Many analysts consider that the 1900 Treaty of Washington concerned only the islands of Sibutu and Cagayan de Sulu.,[62][63] but a point of view argued that Scarborough Shoal has been transferred to the United States based on the Treaty of Washington (1900),[64] ignoring the fact that the cession documents from the United States to the Philippines did not have any reference to the Scarborough Shoal.[65]

The DFA asserts that the basis of Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the rock features of Bajo de Masinloc are not premised on the cession by Spain of the Philippine archipelago to the United States under the Treaty of Paris, and argues that the matter that the rock features of Bajo de Masinloc are not included or within the limits of the Treaty of Paris as alleged by China is therefore immaterial and of no consequence.[45][47]

Presidential Decree No. 1596 issued onJune11, 1978 asserted that islands designated as the Kalayaan Island Group and comprising most of the Spratly Islands are subject to the sovereignty of the Philippines,[66] and by virtue of the Presidential Decree No. 1599 issued on June 11, 1978 claimed an Exclusive Economic Zone up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the baselines from which their territorial sea is measured.[67]

The Philippines' bilateral dispute with China over the shoal began on April30, 1997 when Filipino naval ships prevented Chinese boats from approaching the shoal.[2] On June 5 of that year, Domingo Siazon, who was then the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs, testified in front of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate that the Shoal was "a new issue on overlapping claims between the Philippines and China".[68]

In 2009, the Philippine Baselines Law of 2009 (RA 9522), authored and sponsored by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, was enacted into law. The new law classified the Kalayaan Island Group and the Scarborough Shoal as a regime of islands under the Republic of the Philippines.[3][69]

Permanent Court of Arbitration tribunal ruling

In January 2013 the Philippines formally initiated arbitration proceedings against the PRC claim on the territories within the "nine-dash line" that include Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines claimed is unlawful under the UNCLOS convention.[70] An arbitration tribunal was constituted under Annex VII of UNCLOS and it was decided in July 2013 that the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) would function as registry and provide administrative duties in the proceedings.[71]

On 12 July 2016 the PCA tribunal agreed unanimously with the Philippines. In its award, it concluded that there is no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources, hence there was "no legal basis for China to claim historic rights" over the area within the nine-dash line.[72][73] The tribunal also judged that the PRC had caused "severe harm to the coral reef environment",[74] and that it had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration by, for example, restricting the traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal.[75] The PRC rejected the ruling, calling it "ill-founded"". PRC president Xi Jinping insisted that "China's territorial sovereignty and marine rights in the South China Sea will not be affected by the so-called Philippines South China Sea ruling in any way", nevertheless the PRC would still be "committed to resolving disputes" with its neighbours. China afterwards sent more warships in the Scarborough Shoal.[75][76]

See also

Other East Asian island disputes


  1. ^ Often considered one because the other skerry's area during high-tide is negligible.


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