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Looking South: Sansha history

Reporter: Han Bin 丨 CCTV.com

06-17-2014 12:36 BJT

Historical documents record China’s sovereignty in South China Sea

Tensions in the South China Sea have intensified over maritime disputes, especially between China, the Philippines and Vietnam. China says it has indisputable sovereignty over islands there and the adjacent waters. However, there have been overlapping claims by other countries.

Today in our special series, ‘Looking South’, our reporter Han Bin talks with Professor Wu Shicun, President of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in southern China’s Hainan Province. Professor Wu explains China’s official position through his decades of research. Some of the archives he showed us are being released to the media for the very first time.

Studying and collecting the historical evidence of Chinese sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea. This has been the focus of Professor Wu Shicun’s work for two decades. The deeper he goes, the more he believes that China needs to present its claims clearly and publicly.

"The U shaped line’, or the nine-dash line’, is a line of ownership of the features and historical waters. It indicates China’s claim of sovereignty over all the islands and reefs within the line, and China’s historical rights in fishing, navigation and exploitation in the South China Sea." Wu said.

This Chinese map was drawn by the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of China in 1946. The 8 dashes mark what’s known as China’s “traditional maritime boundary line”. And this text book published in 1936 marks the island groups within China’s domain, and China’s southernmost boundary at Zengmu Ansha, known as James Shoal in the West, at 4 degrees north latitude. Wu Shicun stresses that China was the first country to discover and name these island groups. The history of continuous use and exercise of authority spans over 2,000 years.

This map identifies some island groups as “Wanli Changsha”, literally meaning “long sandy banks tenth of thousands of miles afar." They are marked as the territory of the Ming Dynasty. The Institute has collected some rarely seen historical documents, which trace a period of history which is not well known. Wu Shicun says no other country can provide more definitive evidence to support a claim. But today, the stakes are much higher.

"Due to various reasons, such as the implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the pursuit for marine resources, and the increasing US pivot to Asia, the South China Sea disputes have developed from the original disputes over islands and surrounding waters, to a geopolitical contest of politics and interests, resource exploitation, and navigation control, involving both the claimant and non-claimant states, within this region and far beyond." Wu said.

Wu Shicun believes that handling the South China Sea disputes requires prudence, and the eventual resolution will take a very long time. He says the only choice for all the claimant states is to put aside their disputes, and agree to common exploitation through dialogue and cooperation.

The background of the South China Sea disputes is complex. That’s why mapping the differences and their historical basis is vital in the analysis of the situation in region. These historical documents from China, may help provide the context in which current tensions are unfolding.

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