Philippine-China border relations: cautious engagement amidst tensions
Conflicting claims to sovereignty over islands, related overlapping maritime claims, and undelimited maritime boundaries are an enduring source of tension between the Philippines and China. In particular, an influential and often corrosive factor in their bilateral relations is their competing claims in the South China Sea. China asserts territorial sovereignty over numerous islands in the southern South China Sea, generally referred to as the Spratly (Nansha) islands, on historic grounds. Meanwhile, the Philippines claims sovereignty over many of the same islands, which it refers to as the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), on the basis of discovery and effective occupation (see Map 16.1).
Both countries are parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)1 and both refer to international law to support and bolster their respective claims. The Philippines and China also contest sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, located in the northeast of the South China Sea, with a potential exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of approximately 54,000 nm2 (185,500 km2). Moreover, the Philippines has yet to delimit its overlapping maritime claims to the northwest with the Republic of China (ROC) administered Pratas islands and to the north with respect to the island of Taiwan.