On Thursday, the Philippines’ president Benigno Aquino announced that he had approved the name change so as “to clarify which of the areas we are claiming.”
Aquino added that under Administrative Order (AO) No. 29, the area surrounding the nation’s western sea board - including the Luzon Sea and the waters around the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal – would be henceforth referred to by the new name, with the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) ordered to “produce and publish charts and maps of the Philippines reflecting the West Philippine Sea [as part of the Philippines]”.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda also defended the move, saying that the renaming should not anger its neighbours, including China and the rest of ASEAN.
"How does one threaten other nations when what we've called the West Philippine Sea covers the exclusive economic zone, which is provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea? So we see nothing wrong with what we claim as part of our sovereign rights under the Unclos," Lacierda said to Sun Star Manila.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei however pointed out that the international community, including the United Nations, had previously acknowledged the name South China Sea for the area.
“The action of the Philippine side will not change the fact that China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea including Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) and Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal), and their adjacent waters,” said Hong in a statement, cited by Xinhua.
“South China Sea is a name that has all along been accepted by countries across the world as well as by the United Nations and other international organisations,” he added.
The two nations have been locked in an increasingly bitter row over their maritime claims after China announced that the South China Sea was almost entirely theirs. Other countries involved in the dispute include Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Thailand, though tensions between China and the Philippines are particularly fragile after vessels from both sides had a showdown near the Scarborough Shoal in April this year.