China has registered trademarks over hundreds of land features scattered throughout the South China Sea, a move opposed by other claimants to the disputed waters, BenarNews, a Washington-based online news service, reported Thursday.
BenarNews said records show that Sansha City – which is responsible for administering China’s claims in the South China Sea – filed thousands of domestic trademark applications covering 281 specific rocks, reefs, shoals and other contested features as well as entire regions of the South China Sea.
Each of these trademarks is composed of the feature’s name in stylized Chinese calligraphy and is categorized under one of 45 international trademark classes, which cover everything from musical instruments to legal services. Many also include an English transliteration of the feature’s name and an illustrated logo that offers a colorful view of the feature as seen from above.
The depiction of features appears to predate China’s massive campaign of land reclamation in the Paracel and Spratly islands, which kicked off in 2014, BenarNews said.
Julian Ku, a professor at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, said these trademarks could potentially help the Chinese government wield lawsuits to advance its position in the disputes.
The party-list group Bayan Muna denounced the trademark registrations as yet another blatant assault on the sovereignty of the Philippines and the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration which declared that China has no historic rights over the waters of the West Philippine Sea and the islands within it.
“We trust that other nations would respect the decision of the Permanent Court and reject any efforts to register the same trademarks under their respective jurisdictions,” Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said in a statement to Manila Standard.
“Let the Chinese government and the people behind these trademarks fool themselves over their illegitimate claims. The Court’s decision is clear – the West Philippine Sea is ours. No Chinese trademark can overturn that ruling,” he added.
Gaite said this “lawfare” or the misuse of legal systems and principles against the Philippines is but a desperate attempt by China to solidify its dubious “Nine-Dash Line” claim over the West Philippine Sea.
“Even the registration as a trademark is equally dubious. According to the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, “a trademark is a word, a group of words, sign, symbol, logo or a combination thereof that identifies and differentiates the source of the goods or services of one entity from those of others.” How this can apply to physical features and islands is a big question mark,” Gaite said.
Nonetheless, Gaite called on the government to intensify its assertions of the Philippines territorial integrity and to act more decisively in addressing Chinese military presence in Philippine waters.
“It must reverse its exaggeratedly chummy and disconcertingly submissive diplomatic policy towards China and start standing up for Philippine sovereignty,” he said.
A group of environmentalists, meanwhile, lambasted China for illegally taking fish from Philippine waters “every single day.”
Villardo Abueme, Homonhon Environmental Rescue Organization (HERO) president, said the Philippines could face a fish shortage as Chinese fishing vessels remain in the West Philippine Seas’ Spratlys Islands to catch 240,000 kilos of fish from Philippine waters every day.
He said China’s overfishing as being “worse than invasion” and urged the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to look into the matter.
The Chinese fishermen have been overfishing (and) depleting our marine resources. They even sell their catch to our fishermen at a higher price,” he said.
“This is actually worse than invasion. Our fishermen have nothing to eat. They are now getting hungry because of these Chinese (fishermen),” he added.
Citing the National Task Force for West Philippine Sea, Abueme said the ships found around the Union Banks and Pag-asa Islands were about 60 meters in length, and that each ship could catch at least one ton of fish every day.
The task force sighted 240 Chinese vessels at the West Philippine Sea during its latest sovereignty patrols on April 11.
Some 136 Chinese vessels were spotted at Burgos Reef; nine others at Julian Felipe Reef; 65, in Chigua Reef; six in Panganiban Reef; three vessels in Zamora Reef; four near Pag-asa Island; one near Likas Island; five near Kota Island, and 11 in Ayungin Shoal.
Abueme earlier said that earth materials from dredging and mining in different parts of the country, such as quality and affordable sand, gravel, aggregates and filling materials, were being used by China to build a reclamation and military infrastructure at the West Philippine Sea.
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