The tech giant has updated its map of a disputed area of the South China Sea following a petition signed by around 2,000 Filipinos.
As competing territorial claims in the South China Sea become a hot geopolitical issue, citizens of the Philippines started an online petition to get the name of the disputed shoal changed to its international name rather than the Chinese version, according to the BBC.
Google amends map of South China Sea
Google has now amended the map to refer to the reef as Scarborough Shoal, rather than as part of the Zhongsha Islands. The area is subject to territorial claims from both the Philippines and China, which are competing for its rich fishing grounds.
In order to resolve the dispute, the Philippines went to a United Nations tribunal to present their case, but Beijing has not joined the process. In 2012 vessels from both nations refused to leave the area for weeks as part of a tense standoff over ownership.
The petition claimed that Google Maps’ use of the Chinese name boosted Beijing’s claims to the shoal.
“China’s sweeping claim of (the) South China Sea under their nine-dash line purportedly historical boundary is illegal and is creating tension among nations,” read the petition.
Tech giant responds to Filipino petition
“We understand that geographic names can raise deep emotions which is why we worked quickly once this was brought to our attention,” read an email from Google to the BBC.
According to the tech company’s policy on disputed regions, it takes into account “guidance from authoritative references, local laws and local market expectations,” and aims to consider “all points of view where there are conflicting claims.”
The Scarborough Shoal is one of many features which China claims to own in the South China Sea. The shoal, known as Huangyan Island to China and Panatag Shoal to the Philippines, has been controlled by the Chinese since the standoff in 2012.
The shoal is located 500 miles from China and just over 100 miles from the Philippines, but proximity is rarely the deciding factor in territorial claims. One major example of this is the ongoing wrangling between the United Kingdom and Argentina concerning the Falklands/Malvinas Islands.
Charles Jose, a spokesman for the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, said that Manila is happy that the islands will now be given “neutral names” on Google Maps.
Complicated territorial claims in the area
Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have competing claims over the South China Sea, a vital shipping route rich in fishing grounds, and reportedly oil. The Philippines turned to a UN tribunal in the Hague in order to end the ambiguity in the area.
Last week the tribunal started considering whether it could be part of a legal challenge over territorial claims. The Philippines finished presenting its case on Monday, but China has refused to get involved in proceedings.
The case began in 2013, and the Philippines has asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration to rule on the legality of Chinese maritime claims related to areas over which the Philippines claims sovereignty.
Should the Court rule in favor of the Philippines, China would not be obliged to respect the ruling. Beijing believes that Manila should negotiate with it directly, and stated that China “will never accept the unilateral attempts to turn to a third party to solve the disputes.”
Rival claimants struggling to counter Chinese aggression
China has been accused of bullying smaller claimants with its economic and military might. Philippines Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she was “confident” the UN-backed tribunal would pass judgment.
“We are doing this as a peaceful means to resolve the dispute. We can’t fight China economically, militarily and even politically. This is the way to do it,” de Lima told Filipino media on Tuesday.
Rival claimants do not have the economic might boasted by Beijing, which Chinese officials have used to carry out huge land reclamation projects in the disputed Spratly Islands. Although the Philippines and Vietnam have also reclaimed land, they are not capable of undertaking the massive projects made possible by the resources possessed by China.
The pace of Chinese encroachment into waters claimed by other nations has left rival claimants scrambling for a response. The U.S. continues to patrol the region, and has carried out joint military exercises with the Philippines, but the presence of U.S. forces has done nothing to discourage China.
It appears that China feels dangerously entitled to control of the South China Sea, and is willing to play a dangerous game of chicken with the U.S. and its regional allies in order to gain it.