Thu, Sep 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Bashi Strait: a lesson in geography

By Chen Hurng-yu 陳鴻瑜

There are two groups of islands between Taiwan and Luzon Island in the Philippines. The Batan, or the Batanese, Islands, are located close to Taiwan at a distance of 190km, and the Babuyan Islands are located close to Luzon Island. The Batan Islands are comprised of 10 small islands, the largest being Itbayat, followed by Batan Island.

The Batan Islands cover an area of 210km2. Research has shown that the people living on the islands have unique traits. They say they belong to the Ivatan people, and the local language is also called Ivatan. According to one explanation, this people may have migrated from Taiwan and later mixed with the Spanish colonizers living there.

Because the Batan Islands are located near Taiwan, Taiwanese fishermen have traditionally fished in the area around the islands. As a result of regular contact, some Taiwanese fishermen have taken up residence on the islands, and there have been marriages with the local population, which has led to some locals understanding some Hoklo, commonly known as Taiwanese.

After the Spanish were defeated by the US in 1898, one of the conditions of the peace treaty was that Spain cede the Philippines to the US. But a close reading of the US-Spanish Treaty of Paris is surprising: the northernmost part of the Philippine territory ceded by Spain to the US ends at the 20th parallel, or south of the Balintang Channel. This means that the Batan Islands fall outside the scope of the peace treaty.

What does this mean? Was it a measurement mistake? Or was it due to other reasons?

To deal with these questions, we have to go back to 1895 and the maritime border agreement signed by Spain and Japan.

On Aug. 7, 1895, during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, Japan and Spain signed an agreement delineating the borders of Taiwan and the Philippines. The agreement defined "the middle of the navigable channel of Bashi parallel to the latitude as the Western Pacific border between Japan and Spain."

Because the agreement did not define borders in terms of latitude and longitude, and because there was no definition of what was meant by the Bashi Strait, the unclear geographical scope created problems in later talks between the US and Spain.

In June 1896, war broke out between the US and Spain. The US defeated the Spanish fleet in the Bay of Manila, thereby winning the war. Representatives of the US and Spain reached an agreement on Nov. 28, but did not reveal the contents. A newspaper therefore guessed at the scope of Philippine territory demanded by the US, writing: "It is believed that the definition of the limits of the Philippine group in the American demands will be as follows: From 5? 32' north latitude to 19? 38' north latitude, and from 117? east longitude to 126? east longitude, thus covering about 1,000 miles north and south and 600 miles east and west."

This report shows that the most northerly point of the Philippine group of islands as agreed to by Spain and accepted by the US was south of the 20th parallel. This rumor was later verified by the official agreement.

The US and Spain then signed a peace treaty in Paris on Dec.10, 1898. Article 3 of the treaty specifies that Spain should cede the Philippine islands it occupied to the US, as defined in terms of longitude and latitude. The text of Article 3 reads: "Spain hereby cedes to the United States the archipelago known as the Philippines Islands, and comprehending the islands lying within the following line: A line running from West to East along or near the Twentieth (20th) parallel of North latitude, and through the middle of the navigable channel of Bashi, from the one hundred and eighteenth (118th) to the one hundred and twenty-seventh (127th) degree meridian of longitude East of Greenwich, thence along the one hundred and twenty-seventh (127th) degree meridian of longitude East of Greenwich to the ..."

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