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Drawing the U-Shaped Line: China’s Claim in the South China Sea, 1946–1974
Chris P. C. Chung1
Modern China 2016, Vol. 42(1) 38–72
© The Author(s) 2015 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0097700415598538
This article examines the genesis, usage, and meaning of the People’s Republic of China’s and the Republic of China’s U-shaped line claim in the South China Sea territorial dispute from 1946 to 1974. The Republic of China (ROC) officially created the line in 1947, which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) then adopted in 1949. Although the PRC claims sovereignty over all of the disputed islands and features, it remains silent on what specific waters the line claims. Based on ROC national archival files on the line, which remain virtually unused by scholars on the dispute, this article argues that the line was an “islands attribution” boundary until at least 1974. It claimed only the islands, features, and any adjacent waters consistent with contemporary conceptions of international maritime law. The article concludes with the present-day significance of this history and suggestions for future avenues of scholarship.
South China Sea dispute, U-shaped line, nine-dash line, Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands
The South China Sea dispute is among the most pressing issues in Southeast Asia and one of the most complex territorial disputes in the world. Six
1University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Chris P.C. Chung, Department of History, University of Toronto, Room 2074, Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S3G3, Canada.
nations—the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Republic of China (ROC, or Taiwan)—vie for con-
trol over some or all of the Spratly Islands 南沙群島, Paracel Islands 西沙群島, Pratas Islands 東沙群島, and Macclesfield Bank 中沙群島, which con- sist of well over a hundred islands, reefs, and banks throughout the South
China Sea. These islands and features are miniscule, inhospitable, hazardous to the unwary sailor, and contain negligible economic resources, but they matter in other ways. They stand close to one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, nearby waters teem with seafood, and the seabed holds poten- tially massive reserves of oil and natural gas.1
Political necessity compels disputant governments to firmly maintain their claims to these archipelagos and waters. To do otherwise likely would invite political suicide from a nationalistically inflamed populace and rivals who would seize the opportunity to strike. Hardline stances, provocations such as arrests of foreign fishermen, and even violent conflict all have occurred as a result.
The PRC and ROC have staked the most extensive claims to the region. Both are embodied by a dashed U-shaped boundary line (sometimes called the nine-dash line) that the ROC government originally drew in an official map in 1947 and publicly released the following year, titled the Location
Map of the South China Sea Islands 南 海 諸 島 位 置 圖 (see Map 1 in the
Appendix). The line encompasses most of the South China Sea. The PRC,
however, has not officially clarified what the line claims. It asserts owner- ship over the archipelagos and their “adjacent” and “relevant” waters with- out specifying their geographical extent and the maritime rights it confers on China, leading to much debate (PRC, 2011: 1). Some scholars, such as Li Jinming and Zhao Lihai, argue that the line is an “islands attribution line,” which only delimits a claim to the disputed islands, features, and adjacent waters derived from contemporaneous conceptions of interna- tional law (Li, 2011: 60–61; Zhao, 1996: 38).2 Others, such as Fu Kuen- chen, Huang Wei, Wu Shicun, and Gao Zhiguo and Jia Bingbing, assert that it delimits a “historic rights” waters zone. This confers the sole right to economic exploitation, scientific exploration and research, environmental conservation, and the construction of artificial islands and installations over all of the waters contained within the U-shaped line, on the basis of historic Chinese dominance (Fu, 1995: 35–42, 210; Huang, 2011; Wu, 2013: 81–82; Gao and Jia, 2012: 108–10, 123-24). Although Fu uses the term “special
historic waters” 特殊的歷史性水域, he advocates the same rights.
The PRC’s official ambiguity over the line’s meaning plays a significant
role in perpetuating the dispute. No meaningful resolution can emerge if it is unclear what the PRC claims in the first place. Uncertainty also prompts
Southeast Asian countries and the media to assume the worst: that the PRC claims sole rights to exploitation and even to passage regulation across most of the South China Sea, as a gigantic historic waters zone (Thanh Nien News, 2013; Calica, 2013).3 The Philippines’ note verbale of April 5, 2011, for instance, denounced the PRC’s claim on the grounds that the line delineated the PRC’s “relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil thereof” (Thang and Nguyen, 2012: 42; Government of the Philippines, 2011a). These coun- tries’ adoption of defensive measures such as an arms build-up, alliance mak- ing, and encouragement of the United States’ involvement in the region alarm the PRC and lead it to believe that foreign powers are conspiring to contain it. Hence, the PRC has escalated its hardline measures.
This article examines the historical origins and meaning of the line in an effort to clear up this vagueness. It does so by analyzing the archival evidence surrounding the formation of the official U-shaped line map from 1946 to 1948 and its usage by the ROC and PRC since then. These archival files, located in Taipei, remain virtually unused by either Chinese or English- language scholarship on the line. Many of the files were declassified in 2008 and 2009. They argue strongly for the islands attribution stance, as does the PRC’s early usage of the line.
The three collections of archival files examined constitute most, if not all, of those written during the formation of the U-shaped line: the Military
History and Translation Office of the Ministry of National Defense 國防部史政編譯局, the Ministry of the Interior 内政部, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 外交部.4 The Republic of China National Archives Administration, National Development Council 國家發展委員會檔案管理局 holds the first
two collections, while the Archives of the Institute of Modern History at the Academia Sinica 中央研究院 holds the third.
Some points about terminology must be mentioned. First, “China” in this
article refers to the official representative government of that country in the world at any given point in time: the Qing government during the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912), the Republic of China during the Republican era (1912 to 1971, when the ROC lost its seat in the United Nations),5 and the People’s Republic of China from 1971 onward. The appellations “PRC” and “ROC” will be used when more specificity is required. Second, this article will only use non-pinyin romanization systems when citing authors or figures whose legal or preferred names are not written in pinyin. It will use tradi- tional Chinese characters, except for names and titles of works originally written in simplified Chinese. Third, all the maps discussed in the article can be found in the Appendix. Fourth, “historic rights waters” is a conceptual term. It refers to maritime zones to which states, as some scholars argue, pos- sess “historic rights.” It does not appear in the United Nations Convention of
the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the dominant piece of international maritime law today (United Nations, 1982). Finally, the term “historic rights” focuses exclusively on four themes: economic exploitation, scientific research, the construction of artificial islands and installations, and environmental conser- vation. All historic rights’ scholars agree on their centrality.
At first glance, Fu Kuen-chen and Wu Shicun appear to advocate historic rights that encompass more than these four themes. Fu supports China’s “right
to control maritime and aerial traffic” within the U-shaped line 航海, 航空交通管制的權利 (Fu, 1995: 210). Likewise, Wu argues for China’s right to “des- ignate routes” 航道劃定 within these historic rights waters (Wu, 2013: 81–82).
However, both strictly dissociate historic rights waters from maritime zones
that confer comprehensive control. Using analogous international legal con- cepts, they limit regulation to traffic that violates the four historic rights themes. Fu maintains that historic rights waters are neither internal nor territorial waters, partly because China has never protested against foreign traffic there (Fu, 1995: 34–38). Internal waters stretch landward from a coastal state’s baselines.6 The state possesses all rights to the water column, seabed, and airspace as it would with land territory, such as the exclusion of any foreign traffic. Territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles (nm) seaward from a state’s baselines.7 Foreign vessels and aircraft may traverse them only if their pas- sage is continuous and “innocent,” meaning it is “not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state.” Otherwise, the state holds signifi- cant regulatory powers, such as designating sea lanes for the safety of naviga-
tion (United Nations, 1982: Articles 17–22).
Similarly, Wu asserts that China’s historic rights are neither
an entirely exclusive and all-encompassing sovereignty . . . nor [a] purely non- exclusive [one]. The content of [historic] rights should be [made] applicable
to the corresponding analogy of the exclusive economic zone [EEZ] and combined according to history. (Wu, 2013: 81–82).
In other words, Wu argues that the content of historic rights is analogous to rights inherent in an exclusive economic zone. Claimants should use history to determine where to apply historic rights.
EEZs are maritime zones that extend up to 200 nm seaward from a coastal state’s baselines. EEZ privileges are identical to the four historic rights themes: the sole right to exploit resources, conduct scientific research and exploration, protect and preserve the marine environment, and construct artificial islands and installations (United Nations, 1982: Articles 55–75). Article 58 of UNCLOS limits traffic regulatory powers to these rights. It confers freedom of navigation and overflight in the high seas to all foreign vessels and aircraft that traverse EEZs, provided they “have due regard” for
the coastal state’s rights and duties there (United Nations, 1982: Articles 58). Wu’s analogizing extends this restriction to claimed historic rights waters.
It is possible that Wu ties historic rights traffic regulation to Chinese interpretations of EEZs. One is unconventional: the regulation of foreign military vessels conducting military activities. For instance, on March 8, 2009, five PRC vessels disrupted USNS Impeccable’s military surveillance operations and passage within Hainan’s EEZ. PRC Foreign Ministry spokes- man Ma Zhaoxu denounced the surveillance ship for “conduct[ing] activi- ties in China’s special economic zone in the South China Sea without China’s permission” (Xinhua News, 2009). Yet, this view is not the focus on the four historic rights themes. It merely shows that Wu’s vision of historic rights traffic regulation is tied to a disputed legal interpretation of the high seas. Countries that assert EEZ military regulations, such as India, Myanmar, Indonesia, Portugal, and China, commonly hold that military activities are not for “peaceful purposes.” Thus, they abuse the freedom of the high seas that Article 58 of UNCLOS confers (Kraska and Pedrozo, 2013: 238–40; Rahman and Tsamenyi, 2013: 324–28; Zou, 2002: 459–68). Wu’s analogiz- ing applies this high seas interpretation to claimed historic rights waters.
Sovereignty and Development in the South China Sea Islands after the Second World War
The earliest archival files examined in this article were written in 1946, which marked a continuance of the scramble for the South China Sea islands. Japan’s wartime occupation of the archipelagos had only suspended a prior contest in the 1930s between France, Japan, and the ROC (Granados, 2008: 132–40; Samuels, 1982: 55–64). Immediately after the war, the ROC was determined to “reassert” and “protect” its sovereignty over these islands from foreign “infringement.” On September 25, 1946, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of National Defense, and
ROC Navy General Headquarters 海 軍 總 司 令 部 (NHQ) convened in the
Ministry of the Interior to resolve several issues pertaining to the South China
Sea islands (MOFA, file series 019.3/0012, files 097 and 098). The minutes listed each issue and the resolution agreed upon. The first topic, the most sig- nificant, determined the scope of what the ROC would claim in the South China Sea:
1. The case of how to delimit the scope of what is to be received [from Japan] for the purpose of reclaiming [lit., “receiving”] each of the islands in the South China Sea.
Resolution: As according to the scope shown in the Ministry of the Interior’s copy of the Location Sketch Map of the South China Sea Islands 南海諸島位置略圖. After the Executive Yuan has checked and approved [the scope], it will
order the Guangdong provincial government to comply [and carry it out].
(MOFA, file series 019.3/0012, file 097)
The dual use of the verb “to receive” 接 收 reflected the ROC’s view that the islands were originally theirs. It was “reclaiming” them from Japan, which
had recently surrendered.
This passage clearly conveys the ROC government’s view of the U-shaped line. It referred solely and directly to the Location Sketch Map of the South China Sea Islands—the 1946 U-shaped line map that led to the official ver- sion the following year (Map 2 in the Appendix)—when demarcating the area that was to be under Chinese sovereignty.8 However, all of the area within the U-shaped line was not to be ROC territory. The above passage merely defined the islands to be reclaimed: “the scope of what is to be received for the pur- pose of receiving each of the islands of the South China Sea” (italics added)
(“接收南海各島應如何劃定接收範圍案”). Mention of matters pertaining
to the waters around the islands is absent. The remaining six resolutions of
the conference concerned other details about the islands, such as the physical expression of Chinese sovereignty or the approval of translations of the names of these islands (MOFA, file series 019.3/0012, files 097 and 098). The U-shaped line, in other words, was created solely to delineate China’s sovereignty over the land of the islands and other features.
This resolution was adopted in late 1946, when ROC Commanding Officer Lin Zun and Captain Yao Ruyu led several naval expeditions to formally “reclaim” the South China Sea islands from the Japanese. Despite repeated delays in mid-November due to stormy weather, the main islands were secured the following month. ROC troops landed on Woody Island of the Paracels on November 28, 1946, and Itu Aba Island of the Spratlys on December 12, 1946 (MHTO, file series 0035/061.8/3030, files 002/001/0002 and 002/003/0002; MOI, file series 0036/E41502/1, file 0005/007/0001; MHTO, file series 0036/002.2/4022, file 001/001/0005).
These expeditions further constituted the basis for the official U-shaped line of 1947. The “recapture” of these islands led to government discussions about the need for a clear expression and protection of sovereignty over the islands. Situation reports—surveys of the islands describing their geographic coordinates, topography, vegetation, resources, personnel, buildings,
histories, and almost always recommendations for future actions—began to call for increased garrisons and construction on the islands. For instance, the Report on the Reconnaissance of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea
南海西沙群島勘察報告書, written by the ROC Air Force General Headquarters 空 軍 總 司 令 部 and issued on December 25, 1946, recom- mended that more naval personnel be dispatched to safeguard the islands
(MHTO, file series 0035/944/1060, file 001/001/0007). On February 4, 1947, the Report on the Reconnaissance of the Spratly Islands in the South China
Sea 南海南沙群島勘察報告書 noted that “the Chinese navy has already sent
a platoon of soldiers to garrison the islands and set up weather observation and
radio stations to prevent foreigners from coveting, invading, and occupying the islands” (MHTO, file series 0035/944/1060, file 001/002/0007). It recom- mended building a 1,200 meter air strip on Itu Aba Island and envisioned turn- ing the archipelago into a string of “island bases in the South China Sea, akin to American bases in the Pacific Ocean” (MHTO, file series 0035/944/1060, file 001/002/0007).
The ROC government soon held plenary meetings to discuss plans to develop the islands in order to “safeguard” national defense. The Ministry of National Defense sent a report— File on Increasing Defense and Building Facilities in the Paracel Islands for Ensuring the Protection of Sovereignty
[over the Islands] and the Strengthening of National Defense 加強建設西沙群島力保主權而固國防案—of one such meeting to the Executive Yuan on June 14, 1947. It recommended increasing the ROC’s military presence in the
South China Sea islands by garrisoning troops “wherever possible in the archipelagos”; protecting fishermen who “come from Hainan Island and go to the islands” to fish; “vigorously constructing” lighthouses, weather sta- tions, and radio stations; improving food and water equipment; deciding on the islands’ system of governance; investigating several aspects of the islands such as soil quality, weather, marine resources, and governance in order to aid the development of facilities there; and compiling research about the islands to expound Chinese sovereign rights and impress their importance on the Chinese population (MHTO, file series 0035/061.8/3030, files 005/012/0009 to 0011). The ROC supported the garrisoning and development of the South China Sea islands in order to show the world that they were theirs, actions that led to the official promulgation of the U-shaped line.
These files again strongly support the island attribution line. They focus almost exclusively on matters pertaining to the islands’ land territories. While the plans for development were never completed because of the Chinese Civil War (1946–1950), the ROC nevertheless strove to assert ownership over the land territories of the archipelagos for the explicit purpose of “reclaiming,” demonstrating, and protecting its sovereignty from foreigners
(Granados, 2006a: 173–74). The same cannot be said for the waters around the islands. Neither report made any mention of plans for naval protection over a large special waters zone of any kind. There were only two, and rare, exceptions to the absence of maritime affairs in the archival files. The first was the establishment of naval patrols in order to safeguard supplies to troops stationed on the islands, as distinct from those established to protect a waters zone (MHTO, file series 0035/061.8/3030, file 005/012/0010). These patrols simply were meant to escort supply ships. The second exception was the protection of Chinese fishermen. For instance, as the File on Increasing Defense and Building Facilities in the Paracel Islands advocated, the ROC government was to “implement immigration [to the islands] for fishermen who regularly and seasonally travel from Hainan to the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos to fish, and provide greater protection of their fishing permits” (MHTO, file series 0035/061.8/3030, file 005/012/0010). To “provide greater protection of their fishing permits,” the ROC navy was to ensure that no one challenged the fishermen’s activities.
Although such reports did not specify the exact scope of fishing waters to be guarded by the ROC navy, only “fishermen who went to the Paracel and
Spratly Islands from Hainan to catch fish” were to be protected (“對於我國
. . . 來往西南沙群島捕水產之瓊州漁民應加保護獎助.” Qiongzhou 瓊州
was the old term for Hainan Island). This passage, coupled with the ROC’s
focus on the islands’ land territory, strongly indicates that Chinese fishermen stayed close to the islands and did not routinely venture into the vastness of the South China Sea. This interpretation fits the ROC’s contemporary con- ception of waters zones. At the Hague Codification Conference of 1930, the last international meeting to discuss the standardization of the scope of terri- torial waters before the creation of the U-shaped line maps, the ROC sup- ported a three nautical mile territorial waters zone and a twelve nautical mile contiguous waters zone beyond it (Koh, 1987: 7–8). The ROC government officially implemented the former zone in 1931, the latter in 1934, and allowed fishing within both despite the conference having never reached a consensus (Chiu, 1975: 38–41; Granados, 2006a: 167). It did not support any other waters zone beyond these two until the concept of the continental shelf zone was first discussed internationally in the UN Geneva Convention of 1958. That the scope of protection of fishermen was not specified in any archival document, especially those focused on increasing the ROC’s defense and development of the islands, compromises any argument that the ROC at this time held a historic rights waters view.
It is doubtful that the minutes of the September 1946 conference, the sum- maries of other meetings convened on the issue, and the situation reports in the ROC archival collections would leave out reference to a special waters
zone as massive as the U-shaped line, if one existed. Two express purposes of these documents and meetings were, first, to define the geographical scope of what was to be Chinese, and second, to specify what areas were to be devel- oped and how, with the deliberate aim of asserting and “protecting” Chinese sovereignty. The September 1946 conference, furthermore, eliminates another possibility: that a historic rights waters zone could have emanated from the mainland and not from the South China Sea islands, thus explaining the absence of references to special waters zones in the archival files. As the September 1946 conference summary showed, the ROC purposely created and used the U-shaped line to encompass all matters pertaining to the islands. One cannot dissociate a historic rights waters zone from the islands, since the waters were represented by the line, whose existence hinged on those insular features. Any historic maritime zone as delineated by the U-shaped line must emanate from the South China Sea islands, as must any discussion of the idea. Even authors who support a historic rights claim, such as Fu and Huang, indirectly admit this much, as they unfailingly assert that the line represented and enforced a waters zone in addition to showing Chinese sovereignty over the islands (Fu, 1995: 204–10; Huang, 2011).
Similarly, plans to develop marine resources shortly after the genesis of the U-shaped line also focused exclusively on the islands. In March 1950, the Hainan Fisheries Authority submitted a report to the NHQ, titled The Hainan Fisheries Authority’s Pilot Project on the Development of Marine
Resources in the Paracel Archipelago 海南特區水產管理局西沙群島水產開發試驗計劃. It proposed four objectives in expanding the exploitation of resources in the waters around the islands. The first three were to process
useful marine fauna; relieve unemployed fishermen by resuming develop- ment of marine resources; and “clearly understand” the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos and plan their future development. The fourth “objective” comprised four points, some redundantly listed: increase revenue, cultivate marine resources, improve the islands’ infrastructure,9 and carry forward the Hainan Fisheries Authority’s business plans for the islands. It described the funds and equipment required for the proposal, conditions of invest- ment, and plans for radio communication between fishermen and the islands (MHTO, file series 0035/061.8/3030, files 007/013/0011 to 0014). The pro- posal did not mention protection of Chinese fishermen nor a special waters zone to be enforced by the ROC navy. The first two objectives were silent on the specific area of fishing. In contrast, the third and fourth objectives solely and repeatedly referred to the development of the islands’ land ter- ritories so as to support fishing nearby. The project merely envisioned an intensification, not an expansion in geographic scope, of the exploitation of marine resources.
Granted, nearly all ROC naval forces stationed on the South China Sea islands had been transferred to Taiwan by June 1949, to defend it against an expected PRC invasion. Yet, a small military presence remained on the islands until May 1950, two months after the Pilot Project was drafted (Granados, 2006a: 160, 162). This decrease cannot account for the absence of well-defined limits of maritime jurisdiction and protection in the plan. On April 12, 1950, the NHQ sent a telegram to the Hainan Fisheries Authority suggesting modifica- tions to the Pilot Project. One proposed that five percent of “profits” go toward the welfare of naval units that provide assistance to the islands as well as
“rewards” for garrison troops (“盈利部分提百分之五應改爲海軍協助單位福利金及駐島官兵犒賞費”) (MHTO, file series 0035/061.8/3030, files 007/014/0002 to 0003). The source of these “profits,” although unspecified, was
likely the development of the islands, given the telegram’s purpose of providing modifications to the March plan. The ROC evidently remained confident in the future development of the islands and the military’s ability to protect them.
ROC diplomatic protests made after the release of the U-shaped line further support the islands attribution argument. The ROC only protested against “infringements” of sovereignty over the islands’ land territories, not its waters. One example provides a telling distinction between the islands’ land and maritime jurisdictions and their importance to the ROC govern- ment. On April 13, 1949, ROC ambassador Chen Chih-Ping raised with Felino Neri, the Filipino undersecretary of foreign affairs, the issue of newspaper articles that stated that the Filipino government planned to send Commodore Jose Andrada to inspect Itu Aba Island. One article in particu- lar reported that “some cabinet members suggested that their people be induced to settle there [on Itu Aba] preparatory to making a claim for the annexation of this group to the Philippines, if necessary, as a security mea- sure.” Chen requested confirmation of the veracity of these statements and emphasized that “Taiping [i.e., Itu Aba] Island is the territory of the Republic of China.” Neri’s reply on May 11 reassured Chen that there was no cause for worry: “In the meeting referred to, the Cabinet simply dis- cussed the need for affording greater protection to Filipino fishermen who are reportedly operating in the waters surrounding Itu Aba” (MOFA, file series 019.3/013, files 038 and 039).
Both Chen’s and Neri’s letters indicated that the islands’ land territories were the main concern of the ROC government. Chen worried that the Filipino cabinet had authorized an inspection of Itu Aba Island and discussed the settlement of Filipino fishermen there, thus “infringing” on the ROC’s sovereignty. Neri recognized Chen’s concern, and through the word “simply” denied the validity of the newspaper reports. Neri, however, clearly thought the presence of Filipino fishermen “operating in the waters surrounding Itu Aba Island”—well within the limit delineated by the U-shaped line—was not
an issue. He never mentioned maritime jurisdiction, which presumably he considered a relatively trivial matter.
Chen never replied to Neri’s response, which suggests that the Filipino explanation satisfied the ROC. The ROC did not issue any diplomatic pro- tests against the Philippines involving sovereignty issues in the South China Sea region until late May 1956, after a Filipino citizen, Thomas Cloma, informally proclaimed the formation of Kalayaan, or “Freedomland,” over some of the Spratly Islands to the Filipino and world press on May 15 (Samuels, 1982: 82).10 The ROC responded by sending three expeditions to reclaim the Spratly Islands from June 1 to September 24, 1956—ROC gar- risons on the islands earlier had been recalled to defend against an antici- pated Communist invasion of Taiwan (Samuels, 1982: 84). In short, for the ROC, it was the islands that were the key aspect of the South China Sea archipelagos, not the exclusion of foreign fishermen from the surrounding waters. The ROC did not consider the waters of the U-shaped line as pro- viding special rights.
Like Freedomland, the “Kingdom of Humanity” was also a foreign threat to “Chinese sovereignty” over the islands. Although private American citizen Morton Meads’ attempt to establish an independent country over part of the Spratlys was seen as bizarre or comical by most of the international commu- nity—Filipino naval and air searches for the kingdom using coordinates pro- vided by Meads proved fruitless—the ROC treated the affair seriously (MOFA, file series 019.3/0003, files 045 to 046). On July 9, 1955, Chow Shu-Kai, ROC chargé d’affaires ad interim in Manila, notified Filipino vice president Carlos Garcia, who also was serving as the Filipino secretary of foreign affairs, that the ROC was
conducting [an] investigation in the waters around the Spratley Islands [sic] in connection with alleged violation of Chinese territory by the so called “Kingdom of Humanity.”
According to information emanating from the “Consul” in Manila of said “Kingdom” [i.e., Meads11], the “Kingdom’s” territory appears to be so delineated as to include the Spratley Island Group, which constitutes part of the territory of the Republic of China. The Chinese Government has therefore initiated action to conduct [an] investigation in said area with a view of determining whether infringement on Chinese territorial rights has been committed by the said “Kingdom.” It would be appreciated if Your Excellency would kindly acquaint pertinent authorities of the Philippine Government with this effect. (MOFA, file series 019.3/0003, file 077)
This statement did not constitute a direct diplomatic protest to Manila, as Meads was acting on his own. Chow was simply informing Garcia of Chinese naval activity in the Spratlys as a result of information on Meads
that it received from the Philippines. It may, however, have been an indirect warning, as former Filipino senator Camilo Osías openly believed that the Kingdom existed and the Philippines should establish diplomatic ties with it (MOFA, file series 019.3/0003, file 046). Osías was the only significant politician in his country to take Meads’ claim seriously. Chow may have aimed to dissuade the Philippines from annexing the Kingdom by reiterating China’s claim to the Spratlys. In any case, the focus again was solely on the islands’ land territory. While the ROC’s investigation was conducted in the waters surrounding the islands, its purposes were to ensure that its sover- eignty on the islands was not infringed and to prevent further incursions by foreigners.
Japan’s Administration of the South China Sea Islands and Their Postwar Transfer to China
The post–Second World War transfer of sovereignty over the islands from Japan to China presents certain possibilities that could undermine the islands attribution line argument.12 By March 30, 1939, Japan had militarily occu- pied the Pratas, Paracel, and Spratly Islands. The next day, it formally pro-
claimed the creation of the Shinnan Guntō 新南群島 (New South
Archipelago), an administrative area covering a portion of the Spratlys and
incorporated under Taiwan province (Granados, 2008: 138). ROC archival files on the South China Sea islands include a map of this administration. Its boundaries were solid and encompassed a significant area of water. Its seven corners possessed specific geographic coordinates, contained within the range of 7–12° N and 111–117° E (MOFA, file series 019.3/0012, file 066).13 Plausibly, the boundary encompassed the Shinnan Guntō’s waters, indicating that the zone conferred certain exclusive maritime rights. However, no writ- ten document directly verifies this assumption.
Nevertheless, irrespective of the nature of the Shinnan Guntō’s boundar- ies, the postwar transfer of Japan’s wartime administration of the islands to China could not have contributed to a historic rights waters zone as delin- eated by the U-shaped line. If the Shinnan Guntō’s boundaries simply denoted an islands attribution line, there would be no waters to hand over to the ROC in the first place when China reacquired Taiwan province after the war. If the Shinnan Guntō’s boundaries did denote a waters zone, this was lost in the postwar transfer to China. The Shinnan Guntō factored into the formation of the U-shaped line because of the islands it encompassed, not because it con- ferred a delineated sea zone. As a telegram order that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent to the NHQ on August 5, 1946, indicated, the ROC was simply preparing to take back the islands of the Shinnan Guntō it thought were
originally its own. It sought to clarify whether they were the same as those of Tizard Bank, or the Tuansha Islands 團沙群島 (MOFA, file series 019.3/0012, file 014).14 In December 1946, the ROC dropped the Tuansha appellation and
subsumed the area within the Nansha, or Spratly archipelago (MOFA, file series 019.3/0013, file 030).
The report resulting from the telegram listed the islands individually and gave general descriptions of them, with no mention of any waters zone. It concluded that the Tuansha constituted only one part of the Shinnan Guntō, meaning the two were not identical (MOFA, file series 019.3/0012, files 014, 016 to 019). Besides the ROC’s sole focus on the islands, these files show that it was not interested in inheriting the Shinnan Guntō administration. Rather, the ROC sought to restore what it thought was the prewar administra- tion of the Tuansha by reclaiming the Shinnan Guntō islands that coincided with the former. These files undercut any argument that the ROC inherited the waters delineated by the boundaries of the Shinnan Guntō.
The ROC’s main goal of restoring the prewar Tuansha administration strongly indicates the U-shaped line’s islands attribution character in another way. No official Chinese maritime boundaries delineating sovereignty over waters existed in the islands region before the Second World War, including the Tuansha administration and the claims of prior dynasties it was based on.15 Consequently, China had no historic rights waters to inherit after the war. Precursor maps of the U-shaped line existed from the 1910s to 1930s, but the ROC government never officially endorsed them for release. Hu Junjie, a Chinese cartographer, drew the first such map in 1914, which included only the Pratas and Paracel islands. Maps of the region largely con- tinued this pattern until the mid-1930s. In 1935, the ROC Land and Water
Maps Inspection Committee 水陸地圖審查委員會 created the Map of Chinese Islands in the South China Sea 中 國 南 海 各 島 嶼 . It placed the southernmost edge of China’s maritime boundary at 4° north latitude, thus
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