It is a principle of international law that “the only form in which a cession can be effected is an agreement normally in the form of a treaty between the ceding and the acquiring state,” as stated in Oppenheim’s International Law.
Japan, shortly after securing Taiwan by way of the Shimonoseki Treaty in 1895, concluded a declaration with the Kingdom of Spain, in which “the parallel passing through the middle of the navigable Channel of Bachi is taken as the dividing line between Japanese and Spanish possessions in the western Pacific Ocean.”
In the peace talks after the Spain-US war, the US intended to assert that the northernmost point of the Philippines should be at 21.5o north latitude; however, Spain said that it could not cede to the US anything that did not belong to Spain.
Therefore, in the Treaty of Peace between the US and Spain signed in Paris in 1898, the line in the declaration of 1895 was defined as 20o north latitude by the US and Spain.
Two years later, on Nov. 7, 1900, the US concluded a sole article treaty, to make clear the geographical extent of the Philippine archipelagoes.
In the 1898 peace treaty, the two parties explicitly identified Cagayan Sulu Island, which is located at 6o north latitude, and the Sibutu Islands, at 4.83o north latitude, as part of the archipelagoes as a whole. They did not mention the Batan Islands, which are at 20.42o north latitude, and thus not a part of the Philippines as defined by the treaty.
In addition, the US had already sent a gunboat, the USS Princeton, to occupy the Batan Islands on Jan. 10, 1900, which also proves that the Batan Islands had nothing to do with the peace treaty. The US did not receive any mandate in 1895, 1898 or 1900 to rule the Batan Islands.
The US then recognized the independence of the Republic of the Philippines in the Treaty of Manila of 1946 and transferred its power where applicable. Article VII stipulated that “the Republic of the Philippines agrees to assume all continuing obligations assumed by the United States of America under the Treaty of Peace between the United States of America and Spain concluded at Paris on the 10th day of December, 1898, by which the Philippine Islands were ceded to the United States of America, and under the Treaty between the United States of America and Spain concluded at Washington on the 7th day of November, 1900.”
Only the treaties of 1898 and 1900, which do not refer to the Batan Islands at all, were mentioned.
In light of the content of the four treaties, it is clear that the Philippines holds no sovereignty over the Batan Islands and accordingly has no rights to its Exclusive Economic Zone.
In other words, Taipei, which is involved in a criminal argument and fisheries dispute with Manila, need not leave the Batan Islands blank out of courtesy for the so-called “temporary enforcement line” of 20o north latitude. Also, there is no issue about abolishing the enforcement line or not.
The question of who holds sovereignty over the Batan Islands should be decided by Taiwan, Japan and the US. The Batan question has nothing to do with the Philippines or China.
So, just dispatch the nation’s coast guard vessels there.
HoonTing is a commentator in Taipei.