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Opinion

Manuel Buencamino: The truth behind China's nine-dash map

BBC's illustration of China's 'Nine-Dash' map, using data from the CIA and UNCLOS.

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Even Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines, calls Communist China's claim to Panatag Shoal a historical absurdity: “Chinese historical claims since ancient times amount to an absurdity as this would be like Italy claiming as its sovereign possession all areas previously occupied by the Roman Empire."

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Chairman Joma Sison are of one mind on the issue. In response to a self-serving position paper where the Red Chinese Embassy claimed "Huangyan Island (China's name for Panatag Shoal) has been the traditional fishing area of Chinese fishermen for generations," and "It is China that first discovered this island, gave it the name, incorporated it into its territory, and exercised jurisdiction over it,” the DFA said: "Historical claims must be substantiated by a clear historic title. Fishing rights are not a mode of acquiring sovereignty. Neither could it be construed that the act of fishing by Chinese fishermen is a sovereign act of a State, nor can be considered as a display of State authority."

Chairman Sison adds that if Red China can cite historical records then the Philippines can cite pre-historic records: "Archaeological evidence shows that the islands, reefs and shoals at issue have been used by inhabitants of what is now the Philippines since pre-historic times.” So there.

But Red China stands by a map with a nine-dash line that it presented to the United Nations (UN) on May 7, 2007, the day after Vietnam and Malaysia asserted sovereignty over their respective continental shelves. The nine-dash line is a u-shaped squiggle between the Southeast Asian landmass and the Philippine archipelago. Red China claims it owns everything inside that wavy doodle. The issue then is the provenance of the map and the u-shaped nine-dash line.

I asked a forensic expert to look into it as my own little pro bono contribution towards easing tensions between the Philippines and Red China. The forensic report is hereby submitted for your perusal and evaluation: “Sir: Upon a careful examination of the aforesaid ancient map, I have reached the following conclusions: First, the map is authentic. However, there is evidence that it was tampered. If, as the Chinese Embassy claims, the map was drawn by the famous Chinese cartographer Hao Shao centuries ago, then the lower left corner area of the map would have the chop of Fu Manchu and not the smiling face of Mao who only became China's emperor in 1949;

Second, I was suspicious of the u-shaped nine-dash line because it did not look as old as the map itself. I applied chemicals to the line, to see if there was anything hidden beneath it. The test proved negative. However, the line moved after it came into contact with the chemicals. Suspecting that it was not actually a part of the map, I put a tweezer to it and I was able to lift the entire u-shaped object without any difficulty. Hence the wavy object is not an integral part of the map;

Third, laid flat and straight the u-shaped object measures about 10 inches. I snipped off a quarter inch from it and put that under an electron microscope. What I saw surprised me so I conducted additional tests on the object. The tests confirmed what I observed using the electron microscope. The object is a dried noodle string. Subsequent DNA and carbon testing suggests that the said noodle may have slipped from Mao's chopsticks sometime in 1949; Fourth, Mao was a sloppy noodle slurper."

I presented the forensic report to Comrade Shu Li, the Embassy apparatchik who wrote the self-serving position paper on Panatag. Caught off-guard, he begged for time to consult with his ambassador, Her Excellency Madame Suzie Wong, before giving me a response.

He called back two days later. Below are excerpts from the transcript of my phone conversation with Comrade Shu Li: Shu Li:

"China not interested in exploration and exploitation of oil on Huangyan Island. China only catching shark for shark fin soup and dumpling, you see? Communist China respect international law but hungry stomach know no law like your presiden Erap always say, okidoki?"

MB: "Is that it?"

Shu Li: "Ha? Ok, I understand. So sorry, so sorry. Ok, Chinese Embassy invite you to noodle soup."

MB: "No thanks." Shu Li: "Ha? No eat shark fin? Ok, we eat Yang Chow fried rice, very delicious also, okidoki?"

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aqer.ph).

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