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South China Sea / West Philippine Sea Dispute Timeline

sam-galope-philippines-china-dispute-timeline When trying to get a ‘low-down’ on a big and complicated issue such as the West Philippine Sea (WPS) / South China Sea (SCS) dispute, more often than not, facts, details, and fine-print obscure the matter considerably – if not completely. Like learning a new language from a dictionary, infoxiation – or the over abundance of information, just gets in the way. If the intent is simply to learn how to say, “back-off” in Mandarin, etymologies, phonetics, and other nuances, though important in their own right, dissuade the reader from reaching his/her objective – to be informed. Such is the case of the WPS/SCS dispute, it is obscured by in-obscurity! There are just too many materials on the issue and they grow every day.

In this regard, this blog tries to elucidate the WPS/SCS in a way that is easy to understand. The information provided here is from the man-on-the-street perspective. Guess-work and speculations are avoided except for opinions, studies, and projections that are reiterated from sources. Rest assured, all information here is backed by articles published on the Internet from reputable foreign and local newspapers. They are provided at the bottom part of this blog.

It must be put on record that I am not an expert on diplomacy, foreign relations, history, economics, and politics. But as a full blooded Indio Bravo, and as a member of the “information generation” that can tap, collect, collate, correlate, and synthesize information at the speed of light, I feel that it is my duty, through technology,  to spread awareness on the South China Sea / West Philippine Sea Dispute. I know that I may be way-over-my-head on the topic, but like Rizal and the propagandists at the turn of the 19th century who were severely disadvantaged by financial limitations, political oppression, racial discrimination, lack of technology, limitations, and seclusion, I will carry-on and hope that my writings will eventually pave the path to awareness and action. Thus in my own small way, protect our country and our way of life from foreign hegemonies.

The a-Historical Nine Dash Line

The SCS/WPS dispute is steeped in history. China cites a 1947 map, that features a nine-dash-line, as historical justification to its claim to 90% of the South China Sea. However, historical references to the SCS/WPS can be traced to a time much older than that – to the time of Catholicism and the Age of Discovery. In 1493, the Spanish Pope Alexander VI, decreed through the Papal Bull ‘Inter Caetera,’ that all newly discovered lands outside Europe must be divided between Portugal and Spain. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas, a formalization of the Papal Decree, was signed. Much of Asia was given to Spain. Thus, all lands, air, and waters, including the South China Sea, were under Spanish control.

The South China Sea / West Philippine Sea has been in dispute since time immemorial. Hugo Gratius’ 1609 dissertation, “Mare Liberum,” eloquently echoes Dutch sentiments at the time. It refutes Spain and Portugal’s claims to the high seas. It also questions their right to exclude foreigners, especially the Dutch who were at war with Spain at that time, from “navigation or entering of [their] waters.” It is a treasure trove of information on the history and politics of the seas.

International laws aside, China’s nine dash line does not have any historical hind-legs to stand-on. If we follow its argument that control and dominion is justified by historical claims, then what of the 15th and 16th century Spanish and Portuguese maps that clearly show solid and continuous lines marking their territories around the globe?

Although, the Age of Discovery in Asia is very interesting, I will end pre-colonial historical references with Hugo Grotius. It merits its own title and space. What follows is the South China’s timeline through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries:


  • Diplomatic bickering between China and Japan over the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on the East China Sea, especially on Japanese occupied Sinkaku/Diaoyu islands, has escalated to the point of military confrontation.
  • US bomber planes fly over the East China Sea ADIZ.
  • China continues to patrol the waters surrounding the disputed Japanese controlled Diaoyu/Sinkaku island chain.
  • The USA vows to support Japan and the Philippines in the event of Chinese military action.
  • Rumors on China’s intent to implement an ADIZ on the South China Sea irk the US and other claimant nations.
  • China and US outraged by Japan Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasuniki Shrine that honors dead Japanese soldiers, including war criminals.
  • Japan protests Korean assassin honored in Chinese memorial. Ahn Jeung-Geun shot dead a four-time JP Prime Minster and first resident Governor of then Japanese-run Korea. He is a hero in Korea.
  • Beijing warns the US to keep neutral.
  • China to build permanent military structures in disputed waters.
  • China and Japan gloat over first Air Craft Carriers.
  • China, Japan, India, and Vietnam announce submarine warfare capability.
  • Australia scrambles to get surveillance planes on the air as soon as an unannounced Chinese flotilla passed through the Malaysia Strait. It is near Australian waters. Malaysia says it was a friendly exercise.
  • The Chinese conducts an oath taking ceremony to “protect China’s sovereignty” on Malaysian waters.
  • China announces new Nuclear tipped missiles capable of hitting Hawaii and US coast towns.
  • Chine raises concerns on Japanese nuke project.
  • Chinese new fisheries laws that include disputed waters worry ASEAN.
  • The Chinese have transformed the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef in Palawan into a forward naval station.
  • The Philippines acquire fighter jets from South Korea.


  • China declares East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that requires all aircraft passing over disputed airspace to register with Beijing.
  • US boosts support for Philippine security forces.
  • China beefs up patrol in South China Sea.
  • China discloses plan to take-over Pag-Asa island.
  • Chinese state-run media revealed for the first time that Beijing’s nuclear submarines can attack American cities to counterbalance U.S. nuclear deterrence in the Pacific.
  • Super typhoon Yolanda has sent home Chinese maritime and Navy vessels at the Ayungin Reef in Palawan.
  • US assists Philippines in sea patrols.
  • The Philippines files case against China in UNCLOS.
  • China discloses Ten Dash Line.
  • Chinese ships return to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal a few days after they left the area off Zambales in the West Philippine Sea.
  • Military stand-off China and Philippines at Ayungin Shoal.
  • China reveals “Cabbage” strategy in South China Sea.
  • Philippine Coast Guard acquire 10 patrol ships from Japan.
  • Chinese general reveals ‘strategy’ for Panatag takeover.
  • China formally rejects UN arbitration on West PHL Sea issue.
  • Germany backs PHL call to settle West PHL Sea disputes through international law.


  • BSP Gregorio Del Pilar, a Philippine warship standoff with China over the Scarborough Shoal.
  • Chinese announces missiles aimed at Philippines and Vietnam.
  • 560 Dongguan, runs aground on Hasa Hasa Shoal, west of Rizal, well within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • President Aquino promulgates Administrative Order No. 29, naming maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago as the West Philippine Sea.
  • China prevents eleven Vietnamese fishermen seeking refuge from a storm on one of the Paracel Islands.
  • China arrests 21 Vietnamese fishermen. China demands 11,000 dollars for their release.
  • Despite Chinese protests, the Philippines undertakes a military exercise with the United States.
  • Chinese fishermen cuts the seismic survey cables of the Vietnamese oil exploration ship Binh Minh 02 again.


  • The Chinese frigate Dongguan fires three shots at Philippine fishing boats in the vicinity of Jackson atoll. The frigate instructs the fishing boats to leave.
  • Vietnamese Binh Minh 02, an oil and gas survey ship clashes with three Chinese maritime patrol at south-central coast of Vietnam.
  • Vietnam Oil & Gas Corporation-hired Norwegian ship clashes with three Chinese fishery patrol vessels within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Vietnam once again claims its exploration cables were deliberately cut.
  • The Philippines strengthens border controls at its western maritime border.
  • Chinese maritime surveillance ships and People’s Liberation Army ships are suspected of unloading building materials onto the Spratly Islands claimed by the Philippines.
  • The Vietnamese carries out two nine-hour maritime exercises with live ammunition.
  • Philippine warship rams a Chinese fishing boat in disputed waters.


  • Indonesia and China captures several of each other’s fishing boats over illegal fishing.
  • An Indonesian patrol clashes with Chinese fishermen escorted by ships from the Chinese Ministry of Fisheries off the Natuna Island in the southern part of the South China Sea.


  • Five Chinese ships harasses a U.S. surveillance ship, USS Impeccable.
  • Chinese submarine collides with the sonar sensor of a US warship off the coast of the Philippines.


  • Chinese ships fire on and kills 9 on two Vietnamese fishing boats from Thanh Hoa province.


  • Vietnamese soldiers fire warning shots at a Philippine airplane near the Spratly Islands.


  • The Philippine Navy brings 14 trawlers on under the Chinese flag, confiscate their catch and escort the ships away from the sea area of the Spratly Islands claimed by the Philippines.


  • Philippine soldiers kills one and arrests seven Chinese fishermen at the Palawan Islands over illegal fishing.


  • A Chinese fishing boat collides with a Philippine Navy vessel and sinks off Scarborough Reef.
  • A Chinese fishing boat collides with a Philippine Navy vessel and sinks near the Spratly Islands.


  • Twenty-two Chinese fishermen are detained by the Philippine Navy over illegal fishing in Scarborough Reef.
  • Vietnamese soldiers fire and severely injure several Filipino fishermen.


  • China and the Philippines clash over flags and other markings at the Scarborough Reef.


  • China, Malaysia and Brunei join the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


  • Malaysia fires on a Chinese trawler fishing in its exclusive economic zone.
  • Taiwan bombards a Vietnamese freighter at one of the Spratly Islands held by Taiwan.
  • The Philippine military expels the Chinese from Mischief Reef and destroys all erected buildings.


  • Vietnam joins the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
  • China occupies Mischief Reef and erects buildings on it. It is claimed by the Philipines.


  • China seizes 20 Vietnamese cargo ships coming from Hong Kong over smuggling.
  • China lands on Da Lac reef in the Spratlys and build a “stone boundary marker of sovereignty.”


  • China passes law that declares the entire South China Sea as its territory.


  • Vietnam and China on the Spratly Islands skirmishes over Johnson South Reef: 74 Vietnamese sailors dead.


  • Indonesia joins UNCLOS.


  • The Philippines join the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).


  • Malaysia occupies three Spratly Islands.


  • The newly unified Vietnamese government restated their long standing claims to the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.


  • China ousts South Vietnamese forces from the Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands


  • Philippines announces claim to islands adjacent to its territory in the Spratleys – Kalayaan. It was formally incorporated into Palawan Province in 1972.


  • China occupies Amphitrite Group of the Paracel Islands


  • North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong sends Premier Zhou Enlai a formal diplomatic correspondence about the issue.


  • French claims to the Paracel Islands transferred to Vietnam


  • Taiwan occupies Taiping, the biggest island in the Spratlys.
  • A Philippine civilian mines sulfur from Taiping Island.
  • Japan renounced any claims of sovereignty over the Spratley and Paracel archipelagos.


  • Japan occupies the islands and takes control of the South China Sea


  • France makes claim to the Paracel Islands


  • Republic of China government states that the Paracel Islands are the southernmost limits of its territory


  • Japan makes earliest documented claim to the Paracel and Spratley Islands


  • China incorporates the Paracel Islands into Guangdong Province

*** Sources ***   21st Century

























  • 1994
    • Occupies Panganiban Reef

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