The Philippines, China, and neighboring ASEAN countries have been claiming for the rights in the parameter coastlines of Scarborough Shoal (Panatag) in the West Philippine Sea.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia are entitled to exclusive economic zones (EEZs) ipso facto or by the mere fact that they have a landmass facing the disputed waters.
China, however, is threatening to declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the airspace above the vast maritime area enclosed by its nine-dash line, covering 85.7% of the West Philippine Sea. While it already has air and naval bases in the Spratlys and the Paracels, China needs to put up similar structures in Scarborough to effectively enforce its ADIZ.
This move added to the escalating tension between China and the United States after US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell officially announced that Scarborough is a redline for the US.
“Any move by the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to physically occupy, reclaim, or militarize Scarborough Shoal would be a dangerous move on the part of the PRC and will have lasting and severe consequences for the PRC’s relationship with the United States as well as the entire region,” Stilwell warned.
The Philippines took over Scarborough after its independence in 1946. But after a stand-off with the country in 2012, China took de facto control of the shoal, blocking Filipino fishermen from entering.
Scarborough is about 130 miles west of Luzon and about 400 miles from China’s Hainan Island. Chinese control of the shoal remains an ongoing concern for the Philippines and the US.