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China, Philippines: Scarborough Shoal Sovereignty Tension Rises

Categories: East Asia, China, Philippines, International Relations, Media & Journalism, Politics, War & Conflict

Tension between China and the Philippines over the disputed waters of the Scarborough Shoal [1] or Huangyan Island has been elevated, with the state-controlled Chinese media reporting that China can no longer tolerate the presence of Philippines naval ships in the South China Sea.

The China Daily commentary on May 8, 2012, highlighted [2] [zh] in its headline that China “could not tolerate the intolerable” regarding the Scarborough Shoal dispute and it revealed that the Chinese government's diplomatic strategy would be a demonstration of sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Nationalist performance

Nationalist Chinese media outlet Global Times's editorial on May 9, stated that [zh] “it would be a miracle if the confrontation would not end up in military conflicts”.

Local newspapers also reported that Chinese naval ships have expelled [3] [zh] Philippine fishermen from the Shoal. The nationalist commentaries come in reaction to a Philippine military expert's claim [4] [zh] that China would not resort to military means to solve either the Scarborough Shoal dispute or domestically, Chinese online nationalism.

The latest sovereignty performance came with the erection of a Chinese flag on the main reef of the Scarborough Shoal by a Dongfan Star television reporter:

Chinese social media is flooded with nationalist sentiment when the word “黃岩島” (Huangyan Island) is searched for, and the mainstream media have added oil to the flame. Below is a selection of some typical Weibo comments on the issue:


@周指辉 [5] [zh]: It seems that our country is to take control of the Huangyan Islands. This is a golden opportunity, I hope we can take control of other islands as well.


@醉想丽华 [6] [zh]: Chinese territory is really huge, but every inch of it is holy. There is no negotiation over territorial matters, only war can solve the problem. We have to hold our weapon and get prepared. Once we are being bullied, we have to fight back. Everyday, the media keep saying that Huangyan is an integral part of China, this is so frustrating… we are being bullied and we still keep talking. We need to show some colors so that they won't test our strength.


@黑匣子陈廖宇 [7] [zh]: The Huangyan issue is a symbolic act for different countries to feed their fantasy [political and nationalistic]. So better not to solve the problem.


@佳琦-半正太V [8] [zh]: China has been very restrained in dealing with the South China Sea problem. But the Huangyan Island issue has been stirred up by the Philippines. I think we can test our knife and see if we can also give some warning to Vietnam and Japan.

 A media worker's reflection

Media worker in Guangzhou, Su Shaoxin [9] [zh], is critical of the media flaming of the popular nationalistic sentiment:


As media workers and public figures, we can win applause from the market and enjoy being politically correct by adding oil to the nationalist sentiment at this moment. However, such utilitarianism would bring disaster to the country and you [probably refers to a more experienced media worker] have much [more] painful experience than me. I would say there is a lack of knowledge and ability in dealing with the [Huangyan] issue — because if it is not out of naivety, there is some hidden agenda [behind the reports and commentaries].