Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's in a name?

The Noynoy administration by fiat has called a part of the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea. All government agencies like PAGASA and the blurbs have followed suit.

However I do not agree that the President had to make the name change at this time. It will just inflame the geopolitical situation with China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines having claims overlapping or otherwise in the possibly oil rich area. China has the most powerful military in the region and has warned all countries to desist in conducting oil exploration work.

The Philippines has the weakest military in the region with very little capacity for external defence. China has been putting markers to claim its territory so close to Palawan and definitely within the country's EEZ.China bases its claim on historical grounds for the sea was a vital trade artery. It is still today.

But if we look at the origin of the sea's name, it was named by European traders first by the Portuguese, then the Spanish and Dutch and later on by the English. The name South China Sea is the one used in English but its name in the European languages means the same thing.

In China, the sea is simply known as Nan Hai or the Southern Sea. In Vietnam it is known as the East Sea. These names reflect the location of the sea with respect to the locations of China and Vietnam.

The new Philippine name reflects the same idea but there is a claim to the area by appending the name "Philippine". This may cause some confusion since we have a Philippine Sea,east of the archipelago which defined by a tectonic feature, the Philippine plate.

If the Republic of the Philippines really wants to stake a geopolitical claim to this sea, perhaps it should name it as the Sea of Palawan. After all Palawan really defines what that sea is and the Kalayaan Islands is a political geographic unit of the Province of Palawan. Some Filipino atlases use the name Luzon Sea for part of the South China Sea within Philippine territorial limits. Fishermen have been using the name "Dagat ng Luzon" for ages.

However this again is an annoying legacy of EUROPEAN COLONIALISM AND IMPERIALISM in Asia. The Europeans had only one objective, subjugate China and put her under their influence and demand trade concessions, which the British did and succeeded after whipping China in the Opium War. China was humiliated and thus began a century of humiliation wherein France, the US, Britain continued to exact unequal trade relations well into the 20th century. Only another IMPERIALISM, that of JAPAN was able to get the Europeans out. But Japan exacted a savagery on China that poisons further normalization of relations even in the 21st century.  And by 1949, Mao's Communist revolution did away with a return of the Europeans and the Americans to China. However, one festering reminder of the humiliation remained with Hong Kong under British rule until 1997. But China now on the road to capitalism had to accept a one country two systems scheme since it was apparent that Hong Kong under British non-interference in capitalism guaranteed its crown colony's financial success . Hong Kong retains its British institutions even if the whole of China is now one big capitalist system.

Commodore Miguel may have to revisit his statement that there is a subliminal message in the European name for this sea. It is not China's claim that is subliminal but IMPERIALISM that is!

Thus imperialism is the root of all these squabbles. But China has become very capitalist and by Lenin's logic it should become imperialist. As an imperialist capitalist dictatorship, it has been infected by the same virus that infected the West in the last 300 years. Thus the irony not even the Chinese ambassador could hide.

A far cry when in pre European colonized  Asia we referred to bodies of water by the compass directions!

The challenge is to resist all forms of IMPERIALISM in Asia!

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