MANILA – China has so far named five seamounts within the Philippine (Benham) Rise, according to a maritime law expert who warned that it could signal Beijing’s covetous intent on the resource-rich area that is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
Maritime law expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal made the revelation after the International Hydrographic Organization approved last year the names – in Chinese – submitted by Beijing in 2014 and 2016.
This means these names – Jinghao, Tiangbao, Haidonquing, Cuiquao and Juijui – are now internationally recognized.
All five seamounts are located within 200 nautical miles of Luzon’s east coast and within the Philippines’ continental shelf.
According to Batongbacal, it is reasonable to expect China to name more features in future, something that an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources says is no cause for worry.
Batongbacal said the task of naming features at the Philippine Rise may be behind China’s research mission in the area in January.
“It’s possible you cannot discover these features unless you carry out research activities that includes conducting surveys in seabeds. We know they undertake many activities in the ocean inclusing these kinds of surveys,” said the UP-based expert.
DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones does not see any peril in China’s naming campaign.
“What is important is that those islands are under our jurisdiction. As owners of those islands and recognized by international law, those are ours; we have the right to name them. But we cannot prevent from naming those,” said Leones.
Batongbacal, however, disputed this. How, he wondered aloud, can the Philippines be complacent about this when it cannot even carry out the simple task of naming the seamounts in its territory and having such names internationally recognized?
“We should have been at the very least the ones to agree what names will be applied by any foreign state. We should have been the one to have granted permission to research that led to these discoveries,” said Batongbacal.
He noted that “China itself doesn’t allow the simplest survey to be carried out in their own EEZ [exclusive economic zone], so why are they doing it in ours?”
It could be, he pointed out, another strategy of China to project strength. “They’re trying to demonstrate marine scientific research capabilities they know and since development of marine research and technologies is an indication of maritime power they have, so they’re doing all these kinds of things including naming.”
He strongly recommended a closer watch on the management of the Philippine Rise.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque insisted that no one can dictate on the Philippines on how it wants to name its maritime assets.