Controversy over Spratly Islands territorial
The underlying controversy over the Spratlys strikes a chord in Philippine national pride, both because of the awareness that the Philippine armed forces cannot defend the Philippines' claim to the islands, and because of concern over growing Chinese influence in the region. In addition, there is widespread suspicion that corruption may influence Philippine policy. Recent steep increases in the cost of petroleum and pending deadlines associated with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) have kept the six-nation territorial dispute over the Spratly Islands in the eye of public debate in the Philippines. The underlying controversy over the Spratlys strikes a chord in Philippine national pride, both because of the awareness that the Philippine armed forces cannot defend the Philippines' claim to the islands, and because of concern over growing Chinese influence in the region. In addition, there is widespread suspicion that corruption may influence Philippine policy. Competing views on how strongly the Philippines should press its claim to the islands are closely linked to political affiliations. In a move at least partly intended to defuse further criticism of its cooperation with China and Vietnam in exploring the Spratlys' mineral resources, the Arroyo administration allowed its Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) agreement with those countries to lapse when its term expired June 30. The Spratly Islands of the South China Sea are the object of overlapping sovereignty claims by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei to various islands believed to be rich in natural resources -- chiefly oil, natural gas, and seafoods. The Spratlys consist of some 100-230 islets, atolls, coral reefs, and seamounts spread over 250,000 square kilometers, although the island chain's total landmass equals less than five square kilometers. In 1988 and 1992, these sovereignty disputes led to naval clashes between China and Vietnam. The 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea lowered tensions in the region by calling for self-restraint, cooperation, and renunciation of the use of force among all parties. In September 2004, the Philippine and Chinese national oil companies agreed to conduct seismic soundings in the South China Sea. In March 2005, the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) agreement among China, Vietnam, and the Philippines coordinated "pre-exploration" of possible hydrocarbon reserves, and an exclusive contract was awarded to a state-owned Chinese company to conduct the surveys. However, the disputes have not ceased. In April 2007, China accused Vietnam of violating its sovereignty by allowing a consortium of energy companies led by British Petroleum to develop gas fields off Vietnam's southeast coast, and in July 2007, Chinese naval vessels fired on a Vietnamese fishing boat, killing one sailor. The Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, have overlapping claims to some or all of the Spratlys based on the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Under UNCLOS, the Philippines must meet a May 12, 2009, deadline in defining the territorial baselines of the Philippine archipelago. At issue for the Philippines has been whether to include the Spratlys within its UNCLOS baselines, or restrict the baselines to territorial limits outlined in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, whereby Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States following the Spanish-American War. Even in the latter case, under UNCLOS, the Philippines still retains an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nm, and may claim an extended continental shelf of 350 nm; the latter would appear to encompass virtually all of the Spratlys. Even the Philippines' 200 nm EEZ includes most of the islands, while the 200 nm EEZs of China, Taiwan, and Vietnam include few or none. Recent corruption scandals involving Chinese investments and development assistance...
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