Beijing, China announced on April 17 that it has established two districts in Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands.
The Nansha District will be in charge of Spratly Islands, with its government to hold office on Yongshu Jiao, the Chinese name for Kagitingan Reef. The Xisha District will manage Paracel Islands, the Macclesfield Bank, and surrounding areas. According to China Global Television Network, both districts will be under the city of Sansha in the Hainan province of China.
Vietnam previously claimed Paracel Islands and has protested against China’s establishment of the Xisha District.
According to University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Seas director Jay Batongbacal, the creation of new districts asserts China’s control over the disputed waters. “Absence of protests on the part of the other countries, especially those directly affected, will be seen and portrayed as acquiescence and acceptance or recognition of the exercise of such control as valid,” he told Inquirer.net on April 20.
If no state objects, it can be interpreted as recognition of China’s sovereignty and claim. Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to protest, as the Kagitingan Reef is part of the Philippines’ Kalayaan Island Group. Should the Philippines not protest the establishment of the Nansha District in Spratly Islands, “China will later claim we acquiesced,” Carpio said.
The country is currently battling COVID-19, but former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario said "These recent events in the South China Sea remind us Filipinos to be eternally vigilant in the defense of our country’s territory and sovereign rights even as we confront a very grave threat as COVID-19.”
In 2015, Rosario led the Philippines to a legal victory in connection to South China Sea disputes at the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague.
Main image from Wikimedia Commons.