Press Release
March 31, 2022

Dispatch from Crame No. 1240:
Sen. Leila M. de Lima on China's reiteration of its fallacious claim over Panatag Shoal


China's claim that Panatag Shoal is part of Chinese territory is more absurd than Russia's assertion that Ukraine is part of Russia.

Panatag Shoal consists of rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own that are found in international waters. During high tide, Panatag Shoal becomes almost indistinguishable from the featureless waters surrounding it. The international waters surrounding Panatag Shoal cannot be owned by any nation, least of all by one whose nearest shore is almost a thousand kilometers away and whose claim at best is based on a self-serving historical narrative that has no currency whatsoever under international law.

On the other hand, Panatag Shoal is within the Philippines' 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and in that portion that is not even overlapped by any EEZ of any other country. As part of its EEZ, the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the exploration and exploitation of marine resources in Panatag Shoal.

The Philippine EEZ is solidly based on an international treaty, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China also signed and which it also uses to claim exclusive use of its own EEZ that surrounds its coastal areas. However, by some twisted logic, China deprives the Philippines the same right over its EEZ under UNCLOS by virtue of an imaginary Nine-Dash Line it has arbitrarily drawn on a map to claim the whole of the South China Sea, including Panatag Shoal and the Spratly Islands.

China's latest reiteration that its claim over Panatag Shoal is based on international law is therefore nothing more than a lie that if repeated several times, China hopes to become true. Unfortunately for China, international law cannot be based on mere propaganda. There is nothing in international law that allows international waters to be owned as part of the territory not only of an adjacent country, much less one that is hundreds of kilometers away.

The Philippines does not even have to argue what international law is on the issue of Panatag Shoal. This has already been settled in the July 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the case of Philippines v. China that declared China's Nine-Dash Line claim over the whole South China Sea as bereft of any legal basis under international law.

China denies all these facts, of course, because one day it hopes to realize its claim over the South China Sea, Panatag Shoal, and the Spratly Islands not through international law, but through stealth or even force, just like what Russia did to Ukraine. Only then, China has to deal with the international backlash that comes with the illegal annexation of territories, similar to what Russia has to deal with now in its invasion of Ukraine.

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