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Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough Shoal
Disputed island
Other names: Scarborough Reef
Bajo de Masinloc
Democracy Reef
Huangyan Island
Minzhu Jiao
Panatag Shoal
Panacot Shoal
Scarborough Shoal landsat image
Scarborough Shoal is located in South China Sea
Location South China Sea
Archipelago land area: none - many rocks at low tide;
water area: ~150 km2 (58 sq mi)
Highest point South Rock (Chinese: 南岩; pinyin: Nan Yan)
1.8 meters (5.9 ft)
Claimed by
People's Republic of China
Prefecture-level city Sansha, Hainan
Republic of China (Taiwan)
Municipality Cijin, Kaohsiung
Republic of the Philippines
Municipality Masinloc, Zambales
Population none

Scarborough Shoal, also known as Scarborough Reef,[1] Democracy Reef (Chinese: 民主礁; pinyin: Mínzhǔ Jiāo), Huangyan Island[2] (simplified Chinese: 黄岩岛; traditional Chinese: 黃岩島; pinyin: Huángyán Dǎo), Bajo de Masinloc[3] and Panatag Shoal[4] (Filipino: Kulumpol ng Panatag), is a shoal located between the Macclesfield Bank (disputed between the two Chinas) and the Filipino Luzon island in the South China Sea.

It is a disputed territory claimed by the People's Republic of China, 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 Paracel Islands. Since the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff, access to the territory has been restricted by the People's Republic of China.[5]

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.[6][7]


  • Geography 1
  • Activities in the surrounding area 2
  • Sovereignty dispute 3
    • Claims by China and Taiwan 3.1
    • Claim by the Philippines 3.2
    • UNCLOS 3 3.3
  • See also 4
    • Other East Asian island disputes 4.1
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


South China Sea

Scarborough Shoal forms a triangle-shaped chain of reefs and rocks with a perimeter of 46 km (29 mi). It covers an area, including an inner lagoon, of 150 km2 (58 sq mi). The shoal's highest point, South Rock, measures 1.8 m (5.9 ft) above water during high tide. Located north of it 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.[1]

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.

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.[8]

Sovereignty dispute

Claims by China and Taiwan

Map depicting China's territory in South China Sea, with Scarborough Shoal depicted within its U-shape line, by the Republic of China's Ministry of the Interior, 1947

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 UNCLOS within the South China Sea.[9] 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" (四海测验).[10] In 1979 historical geographer Han Zhenhua (韩振华) was among the first scholars to claim that the point called "Nanhai" (literally, "South Sea") in that astronomical survey referred to Scarborough Shoal.[11] 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.[12] Historical geographer Niu Zhongxun defended this view in several articles.[13] In 1990, a historian called Zeng Zhaoxuan (曾昭璇) argued instead that the Nanhai measuring point was located in Central Vietnam.[14] Historian of astronomy Chen Meidong (陈美东) and historian of Chinese science Nathan Sivin have since agreed with Zeng's position in their respective books about Guo Shoujing.[15][16]

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).[17] In 1947 the shoal was given the name Minzhu Jiao (Chinese: 民主礁; literally: "Democracy Reef"). In 1983 the People's Republic of China renamed it Huangyan Island with Minzhu Jiao reserved as a second name.[18] 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 [italics added], the Nansha Islands and all other islands belonging to China which are separated from the mainland and its coastal islands by the high seas.[19]

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.[19]

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.[8]

Claim by the Philippines

1774 map of the Philippine Islands depicting Scarborough Shoal as Panacot Shoal


  • Google Map showing relative position of Scarborough Shoal with Philippines and China
  • Chinese marker in Panatag Shoal (archived from the original on 2011-05-19)
  • Original Text of UNCLOS 3

External links

  • Bautista, Lowell B. (December 2011). "PHILIPPINE TERRITORIAL BOUNDARIES: INTERNAL TENSIONS, COLONIAL BAGGAGE, AMBIVALENT CONFORMITY" (PDF). JATI - Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 16: 35–53. 
  • Bautista, Lowell B. (February 2012). "The Implications of Recent Decisions on the Territorial and Maritime Boundary Disputes in East and Southeast Asia". maritime energy resources in asia : Legal Regimes and Cooperation : NBR Special Report #37 ( 
  • Bautista, Lowell B. (January 1, 2010). "The Legal Status of the Philippine Treaty Limits In International Law".  
  • Bautista, Lowell B. (Fall 2009). "The Historical Background, Geographical Extent and Legal Bases of the Philippine Territorial Water Claim". The Journal of Comparative Asian Development 8 (2). 
  • Bonnet, Francois-Xavier "Geopolitics of Scarborough Shoal" Irasec's Discussion Papers, No 14, November 2012,
  • Tupaz, Edsel. "Sidebar Brief: The Law of the Seas and the Scarborough Shoal Dispute".  
  • AFP (September 11, 2013). "Philippines mulls removing 'Chinese' blocks at shoal". Google Philippines. Retrieved September 11, 2013. 

Further reading

  1. ^ a b c Zou, Keyuan (1999). "Scarborough Reef: a new flashpoint in Sino-Philippine relations?" (PDF). IBRU Boundary & Security Bulletin,  
  2. ^ Johanson, Mark (September 17, 2012). "Senkaku Islands Dispute May Hurt Japan's Recovering Tourism Industry".  
  3. ^ a b "An Act to amend certain provisions of Republic Act No. 3046, as amended by Republic Act No. 5446, to define the archipelagic baselines of the Philippines and for other purposes".  
  4. ^ Aning, Jerome (May 5, 2012). "PH plane flies over Panatag Shoal".  
  5. ^ Tordesillas, Ellen (January 21, 2013). "Chinese ‘occupation’ of Bajo de Masinloc could reduce PH territorial waters by 38 percent". VERA Files.  
  6. ^ W. Gilbert (1804) A New Nautical Directory for the East-India and China Navigation .., pp.480=482.
  7. ^ Joseph Huddart (1801). The Oriental Navigator, Or, New Directions for Sailing to and from the East Indies: Also for the Use of Ships Trading in the Indian and China Seas to New Holland, &c. &c. James Humphreys. p. 454. 
  8. ^ a b Chen Ruobing 陈若冰 (21 April 2012). 中国与菲律宾中沙黄岩岛之争 [The dispute between China and the Philippines over Zhongsha Huangyan Island] (in 中文). Sohu News. Retrieved 21 March 2014.  English translation of original Chinese text available here.
  9. ^
  10. ^ LUO, Zheng 罗铮; LÜ, Desheng 吕德胜 (10 May 2012). "Six Irrefutable Proofs: Huangyan Island Belongs to China 六大铁证:黄岩岛属于中国 (in Chinese)".   See under "Irrefutable proof 1: China discovered the Huangyuan Island long time ago" 铁证一:中国早发现黄岩岛.
  11. ^ HAN, Zhenhua 韩振华 (1979). "The South Sea as Chinese National Territory in the Yuan-Era 'Measurement of the Four Seas' 元代《四海测验》中的中国疆宇之南海 (in Chinese)". Research on the South China Sea 南海问题研究 1979. Retrieved 22 May 2012.  A rough English translation of this article can be found here.
  12. ^ Foreign Ministry of the People's Republic of China 中华人民共和国外交部 (30 January 1980), China's Sovereignty Over the Xisha and Zhongsha Islands is Indisputable 中国对西沙群岛和南沙群岛的主权无可争辩 (in Chinese), p. 6 . This document claims that "the Nanhai measuring point was 'where the pole star rises at 15 [ancient Chinese] degrees [above the horizon]', which should correspond to 14.47 [modern] degrees; adding a margin of error of about 1 degree, its location falls precisely on today's Xisha Islands" (南海这个测点‘北极出地一十五度’应为北纬14度47分,加上一度左右的误差,其位置也正好在今西沙群岛), which shows that "the Xisha Islands were inside Chinese territory during the Yuan dynasty" (西沙群岛在元代是在中国的疆界之内).
  13. ^ See for instance NIU, Zhongxun (1998). "Investigation on the Geographical Location of Nanhai in the Yuan-Dynasty Survey of the Four Seas 元代四海测验中南海观测站地理位置考辨". Research on the Historical Geography of China's Frontiers 中国边疆史地研究 1998 (2). .
  14. ^ ZENG, Zhaoxuan 曾昭旋 (1990), "The Yuan-Dynasty Survey of Nanhai was in  . Among other evidence, Zeng cites a Chinese geologist who argues that the Scarborough Shoal was still submerged under water during the Yuan dynasty.
  15. ^ CHEN, Meidong 陈美东 (2003), Critical Biography of Guo Shoujing 郭守敬评传, Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, pp. 78 and 201–4 .
  16. ^ Sivin, Nathan (2009), Granting the Seasons: The Chinese Astronomical Reform of 1280, New York: Springer, pp. 577–79 .
  17. ^ Zou 2005, p. 63.
  18. ^ Zou 2005, p. 62.
  19. ^ a b Zou 2005, p. 64.
  20. ^ a b c d Philippine Position on Bajo de Masinloc and the Waters Within its Vicinity (18 April 2012), The Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines.
  21. ^ "Philippine Position on Bajo de Masinloc and the Waters Within its Vicinity". April 18, 2012. 
  22. ^ a b PH sovereignty based on Unclos, principles of international law (20 April 2012), The Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines (as reported by
  23. ^ "China deploys gunboat". Philippine Daily Inquirer. April 20, 2012. 
  24. ^ Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J. (April 22, 2012). "Scarborough Shoal". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 
  26. ^ Zou 2005, pp. 64–65.
  27. ^ "The Manila Times Online - Trusted Since 1898". The Manila Times Online. 
  28. ^ "Scarborough belongs to PH, old maps show". Philippine Daily Inquirer. April 23, 2012. 
  29. ^ "In a Troubled Sea: Reed Bank, Kalayaan, Lumbay, Galit, and Panacot". Yahoo News Philippines. March 28, 2011. 
  30. ^ Zou 2005, p. 58
  31. ^ "In The Know: The Scarborough Shoal". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 12 April 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2012. 
  32. ^ What’s become of the MMDA?, Philippine Star, 2 April 2008
  34. ^ "Maritime affairs expert separates facts from fiction on Scarborough Shoal". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 6 October 2014. 
  35. ^ François-Xavier Bonnet. "Geopolitics of Scarborough Shoal" (pdf). p. 12. Many analysts consider, in a restrictive manner, that this treaty concerned only the islands of Sibutu and Cagayan de Sulu. In fact, the unique article of this treaty is open to all islands that belonged to the Philippines during the Spanish time but would be found, in the future, outside the limits of the Treaty of Paris. Among them were the two islands cited above. 
  38. ^ Zou, Keyuan (2005). Law of the Sea in East Asia: Issues And Prospects. Psychology Press. pp. 57–58.  
  39. ^ Philippine Baselines Law of 2009 (March 11, 2009), GMA News.


Other East Asian island disputes

Maritime claims in the South China Sea

See also

  • Article 2 and 3: A country can only claim sovereignty over its land and up to 12 nautical miles of sea perpendicular to its coastline (base line)
  • Article 60: In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State shall have the exclusive right to construct and to authorize and regulate the construction, operation and use of artificial islands.
  • Article 56: In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds
  • Article 57: The exclusive economic zone shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured
  • Article 121: Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, but they do count for territorial claims, i.e. claims of up to 12 nautical miles of territorial waters.

The United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea III has been ratified by both the Philippines and China. The following provisions from UNCLOS 3 may be relevant to the dispute:


In 2009, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enacted the Philippine Baselines Law of 2009 (RA 9522). The new law classified the Kalayaan Island Group and the Scarborough Shoal as a regime of islands under the Republic of the Philippines.[3][39]

The Philippines' bilateral dispute with China over the shoal began on April 30, 1997 when Filipino naval ships prevented Chinese boats from approaching the shoal.[1] 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".[38]

President Ferdinand Marcos, by virtue of the Presidential Decree No. 1596 issued on June 11, 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,[36] and by virtue of the Presidential Decree No. 1599 issued on June 11, 1978 claimed an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the baselines from which their territorial sea is measured.[37]

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.[20][22]

The 1900 Treaty of Washington provided that any and all islands belonging to the Philippine archipelago, lying outside the lines described in Article III of the Treaty of Paris, were also ceded to the United States. In effect, the Treaty of Washington amended the Treaty of Paris, so that the islands ceded by Spain to the U.S. included islands within and outside the Treaty of Paris treaty lines, so long as Spain had title or claim of title to the islands. The Director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs & Law of the Sea has asserted that this includes Scarborough Shoal, which is outside the Treaty of Paris treaty lines.[34] Many analysts consider that the 1900 Treaty of Washington concerned only the islands of Sibutu and Cagayan de Sulu.[35]

Territorial map claimed by the Philippines, showing internal waters, territorial sea, international treaty limits and exclusive economic zone.

In 1957, the Philippine government conducted an oceanographic survey of the area and together with the List of Lights. As of 2009, the military-maintained lighthouse is non-operational.[33]

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.[27] Another topographic map drawn in 1820 shows the shoal, named there as "Bajo Scarburo," as a constituent part of Sambalez (Zambales province).[28] 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."[29] 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.[30]

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.[26]

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.[23][24][25]

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.[20][22]

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.[21]

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.[20] 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.


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