A Philippines-China Clash in the South China Sea

More Fake News from CNN?

Donald Trump was likeliest correct when he told a CNN reporter: “Your organization’s terrible. … You are fake news.”

The bias is so blatantly obvious in the 20 June 2024 CNN headline: “‘Only pirates do this’: Philippines accuses China of using bladed weapons in major South China Sea escalation.” To adduce that it is a bias is simple. Consider that this current news story could have been titled: “Only imperialist lackeys do this: China accuses Philippines of hiding behind the US in its attempt to violate China’s ‘indisputable sovereignty’ in the South China Sea escalation.” That would provide a different perspective to consider in a headline. But it would still be biased. It is a bias because it does not dedicate itself to providing verifiable and relevant facts and background from all perspectives to allow readers to reach their own conclusions. Mind you, one of those seemingly biased headlines may have been accurate. This is because a person may well be biased to factual reporting whatever those facts reveal themselves to be. To strike a headline that does not prejudice the reader, consider: “Clash in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines.” Then consider the factuality of what is argued in an article as each side makes its case.

Of primary consideration in the Philippines-China conflict is which country is supported by evidence in its claims of sovereignty over the shoal known as Ren’ai Jiao in China and Second Thomas Shoal in the West.

CNN writes,

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims in a landmark maritime dispute, which concluded that China has no legal basis to assert historic rights to the bulk of the South China Sea.

But Beijing has ignored the ruling.

What is conceded by CNN is that China has “historic rights to the bulk of the South China Sea.” What CNN asserts is that “historic rights” have no “legal basis.” Historic rights are nonetheless considered nebulous by some scholars. (see Justin D. Nankivell, “The Role of History and Law in the South China Sea and Arctic Ocean,” National Bureau of Asian Research, 7 August 2017. “… many states have different interpretive understandings of the authority of the law of the sea, which invariably lead to different strategic outcomes in foreign policy decision-making and maritime practice.” And Clive R. Symmons, “Historic Rights and the ‘Nine-Dash Line’ in Relation to UNCLOS in the Light of the Award in the Philippines v. China Arbitration (2016) concerning the Supposed Historic Claims of China in the South China Sea: Whatnow Remains of the Doctrine?” wherein it was acknowledged that clarification was needed for “… the meaning of various formerly interchangeably-used terms relating to historic maritime claims [as used in customary international law] : such as ‘historic rights’ [which now can be seen to have both a broad and narrow meaning, …,] p 27.)

On 7 July 2016, I noted that China’s claim of sovereignty for the entirety of the South China Sea preceded the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. China claims its activities in the South China Sea date back to over 2,000 years ago having conferred sovereignty and maritime rights.

China has been the first to discover, name and develop the group of islands in the South China Sea, which have been known as the Nanhai Islands in China. For centuries, the Chinese government had been the administrator of the islands by putting them under the administration of local governments, conducting military patrols and providing rescue services.The Nansha [Spratly] and Xisha [Paracel] Islands, occupied by Japan during World War II, were returned to China as part of the territories stolen from China. This has been clearly set out in international documents such as the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation. China sent government and military officials to recover the islands and deployed troops there.

KJ Noh compellingly refuted the UNCLOS ruling in his article “Making a Mockery of International Law.”

The key issue is over territorial sovereignty–who owns the islands…

The Chinese claim these islands back to the 2nd century BCE, to the Han Dynasty. They claim constant usage, fishing, habitation, travel, mapping of the Islands, intensifying from the Ming Dynasty onwards, and produce historical documents to that effect.

Other countries make other various historical claims: the Vietnamese claim usage from the 17th century onwards.

The Philippines claim that the lands were terra nullius–uninhabited land–and therefore belong to them, as they fall within their maritime Exclusive Economic Zone of 200nm. They also claim that Tomas Cloma, a businessman and adventurer discovered, and then claimed for himself these islands in the 1956, before selling them to the Filipino Government for a single dollar.

CNN writes, “What happens in the South China Sea has profound implications for the US, which has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines that dates back decades.”

The US (which has not ratified UNCLOS) insists on China respecting international law and backed the Philippines seeking international arbitration. One wonders what the world would be like if the US insisted on Israel adhering to international law or, for that matter, that the US respect international law. The US rejected the 1986 World Court judgment against the US’s unlawful use of force in Nicaragua.


It is farcical for Americans to push for purported liberation of lands for other peoples. Why? Because if one grouping of people is entitled to country status in a delimited territory, then that same principle must apply to all peoples in similar circumstances. The US would have to recognize Palestinian statehood in historical Palestine. The same would apply to the Kurds, the Kashmiris, the Basques in France and Spain, the Catalans in Spain, etc. National liberation can not be seriously considered as just a pick-and-choose principle among peoples seeking liberation in a homeland.

Even worse, not only is it farcical, it is hypocritical for Americans. If Americans (and let’s be specific to certain Americans because here we are mainly discussing Americans derived from European migrants) are to be regarded as earnest and sincere in advocating the liberation of peoples elsewhere, then one should first look in one’s own backyard before calling for an overhaul of a neighbor’s backyard. To express fidelity with H.R. 6948, the US would have to turn over Puerto Rico to Puerto Ricans, Guam to the Chamorros, the Chagos archipelago to the Chagossians (yes, Britain lays claim, but the Chagossians were expelled at the request of the US military), and others.

And let’s not forget the conquered islands of Hawai’i, 3860 km (2400 miles) from the US mainland. Or that the entirety of the country known as the USA is based on the genocide of the Original Peoples.


There was a confrontation between Filipino forces and Chinese forces. The Philippines charge that the Chinese Coast Guard used bladed weapons appears to be corroborated by video footage. However, a snippet of video is hard to draw any pertinent conclusions from. What is required is a release of all the footage. Nonetheless, if China used excessive force compared to the Philippines and some Filipinos were subsequently injured, then China deserves some criticism for that.

An undated photo of the amphibious BRP Sierra Madre the Philippines have used as an outpost in the South China Sea. (Getty Images/Jay Directo)

CNN informs that the Philippine mission was to resupply its soldiers stationed on a beached World War II-era warship, BRP Sierra Madre, that asserts Manila’s territorial claims over the atoll. China holds that the vessel was illegally beached.

“Let me stress that what directly led to this situation is the Philippines’ ignoring of China’s dissuasion and deliberate intrusion into the waters of Ren’ai Jiao which is part of China’s Nansha Qundao,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said.

Lin asserts that China’s action was professional and restrained and aimed at stopping the illegal “resupply mission,” and that the China Coast Guard didn’t take direct measures against the Philippine personnel.

“The Philippine operation was not for humanitarian supplies at all. The Philippine vessels carried not only construction materials but also smuggled weapons. They also intentionally rammed into Chinese vessels and splashed water and threw things on Chinese law-enforcement personnel,” said Lin. “These actions have obviously aggravated tensions at sea and seriously threatened the safety of Chinese personnel and ships.”

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the “United States stands with its ally the Philippines and condemns the escalatory and irresponsible actions” by China.

That the US did not come to the aid of the Philippines, as per 1951 mutual defense treaty commitments, seems condemnatory of the US. “However,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, “in practical terms, the Philippines itself would have to initiate a move to activate (it) before the US would intervene militarily.”

A Global Times editorial scoffed at this.

Washington is distorting the truth. The facts of this conflict are clear, and the China Coast Guard (CCG) has responded: the Philippines broke its promise by sending a supply ship and two inflatable boats to illegally enter the waters adjacent to the Ren’ai Jiao of China’s Nansha Islands on Monday, in an attempt to deliver supplies to its illegally grounded warship. What’s worse, the Philippine supply ship deliberately and dangerously approached and collided with normally sailing Chinese vessels. CCG took control measures in accordance with the law, including issuing warnings, intercepting, boarding and conducting inspections, and forcibly driving them away, actions which were reasonable, lawful, professional and standardized.

There was indeed a physical confrontation. What the US — which supports the Israeli amped-up genocide in historical Palestine — thinks is obviated by its callous disregard for human life. Right or wrong will be determined by which country has the better claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea, its islands, and its islets.

Lastly, it would be prudent if the Philippines more carefully considered who their friends really are.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Read other articles by Kim.