Change 'South China Sea' to 'Southeast Asia Sea'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 6/21/2011 12:04:00 AM
Here we go again, another South China Sea entry after I'd written about the issue in recent months [1, 2, 3]. I am of two minds about this new petition circulating among those of us from Southeast Asia to change our term for the 'South China Sea' to the 'Southeast Asia Sea'. (This one comes from the US-based Nguyen Thai Hoc Foundation named after the Vietnamese nationalist executed by French imperialists.) It comes amidst new quarrels between China on one hand and the Philippines and Vietnam on the other over dominion over these strategically important waters. To be sure, Southeast Asia is emerging on the global stage in its own right not just as an appendage of China. Geographically speaking, 'Southeast Asia Sea' is also more accurate given the rather sweeping claims China has on the region.

Should I sign on to the many who've added their names to the petition? The Spratly Islands issue continues to be a highly visible demonstration of how the 'Chinese Communist Party' is not a monolithic entity. Different ministries often do not act in a coordinated fashion. While the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is very gung-ho on the matter, other bodies alike China's trade ministry is more cautious, likely preferring that the matter would go away altogether. For, China has in recent years become Southeast Asia's largest trading partner, and those who have built up such linkages would be understandably reluctant to strain these ties as the PRC seeks to consolidate its backyard. So, in this interpretation, the PRC would lose next to no sleep if Southeast Asians began calling it whatever they wish.

But, the other thing to remember is that China would likely annihilate whatever navies the Philippines and Vietnam could muster if push comes to shove. On the open seas, insurgency tactics against superior forces are not usually effective. Would it act so rashly as to violate the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea?I surely hope not.

In any event, those promoting this petition generally believe that a change of terms can affect the tone of the debate. There are arguably better reasons for calling it the 'Southeast Asia Sea' than its current name. Aside from removing the parochial Sinic overtones--it's called the South China Sea, so it must 'belong' to China--it also has the potential to improve Southeast Asian identity at a time when its countries are also emerging alike Indonesia being included in the G-20.

The Philippine Star has an article briefly describing the petition:
A petition to change the name “South China Sea” to “Southeast Asia Sea” has been launched, with 43,109 signatures posted online so far for its approval. According to online social network www.Changeorg., the Nguyen Thai Hoc Foundation, a group of volunteers campaigning for “a modern and civilized attitude” around the world, started the petition in November last year.

In its petition, the group said the United Nations has officially recognized Southeast Asia as a region encompassing almost the entire South China Sea. The South China Sea has a coastline of about 130,000 kilometers (81,250 miles) while Southern China’s coastline measured only about 2,800 kilometers (1,750 miles), it explained. “The freedom of navigation on the sea is not restricted to a specific country and is a common heritage of mankind,” the group said. “It has actually been used by the international community for centuries as the second most important water channel in the world, and therefore must be considered a common ground.”

The petition had been sent to presidents and prime ministers of the 11 Southeast Asian countries, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the United Nations Atlas of the Oceans, Geographic Society of 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, European Union, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, United Kingdom, Russia, and the United States, and over 10,000 people from 77 countries around the world.

“In this modern era, as human civilization evolved towards a multi-faceted global collaboration, the international community, since the 20th century, has geographically formed a sub-region in Asia to address mankind’s need,” the group said.

“This region was officially named Southeast Asia and consists of Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam...Southeast Asia represents approximately 600 million people who have, in a joint effort, made unique and original contributions to modern civilization in culture, science, education, economics, politics.” South China Sea must therefore be named Southeast Asia Sea, the group said.
Decisions, decisions. Sign up if you must. I certainly won't dissuade you, but I am still weighing the pros and cons at the moment. Still, I must admire this show of Southeast Asian unity because there is honestly so little of it that I can observe.