The issue of preserving one's sovereignty always go hand in hand with the perils of territorial disputes, diplomatic incidents, and even war. History has always been like that as stronger countries bully the weaker and docile ones. It's always been a tug-of-war but what if so many countries are fighting for some "God-forsaken islands" but with a material wealth beyond everyone's imagination - rich marine diversity and black gold - trillion tons of untapped natural gas.
Suddenly, the then-forgotten Spratly Islands became an overnight media sensation for the wrong reason. News headlines are plastered with illegal fishermen taking away endangered marine animals and warships barging in neighboring country's territorial waters. China is claiming everything in the South China Sea are theirs. Malaysia got Sabah from the Philippines and now claiming a huge chunk of islands in the Spratlys. Brunei also want a piece of the pie. Vietnam has built installations in some islands and even had bloody skirmishes with the Chinese in the past. Even far away Taiwan had the nerve to claim these islands as theirs. Now this Russian roulette of some sorts could become a very dangerous diplomatic card game that could lead to armed conflict if politicians from these countries can't sort out a peaceful resolution.
Who is the Real Owner?
Each countries have even placed their history at stake as to who really owns the Spratlys. If the countries involved in this delicate territorial imbroglio and military installations would be built on every island then it would be like the trenches of the Western Front in the harrowing years of 1914-1918. Perhaps a nasty arms race that would further alienate China from the ASEAN would be a dreadful scenario.
Debates will be debates. Vietnam based its claim on the French administration of Indochina prior to their independence. China has a long historical basis for such claims on the island while Taiwan, a successor state of the PRC, also had its claim pinned on that argument. Being a former Japanese colony, islands (then named Shinnan Shoto) were incorporated as part of Taiwan. Malaysia classified the Spratlys as part of Sabah.
We don't have to believe the tall tales of eccentric Filipino adventurer / businessman Tomas Cloma or any form of propaganda and historical fiction but there is this "lost kingdom" of the Spratly Islands that is shrouded in both myth and legend.
What's With The Name?
It was British whaler Captain Richard Spratly who is said to discover the islands when his whaling ship Cyrus South Seaman sighted Spratly Island and Ladd Reef during his expedition on March 29, 1843. Although there have disputes as to who discovered the islands, Richard was credited of the discovery instead of his brother William. A certain Henry, who discovered Mischief Reef in 1791, may have been the discoverer.
The Hydrographic Office described the discovery on "The Nautical Magazine" in 1843:
"...at 9 h. A.M. a low sandy island was discovered from the masthead, bearing S.E.bE. four leagues. On nearing the beach was visible to the water's edge, the top appearing to be covered with small bushes, and about the height of a Ship's hull, with a black patch dividing the sandy beach in nearly two equal parts to the water's edge... One [of these two dangers ] I call Ladd Reef, after Captain Ladd of the Ship Austen, who appears first to have seen it; the other Spratly's Sandy Island."
Although the islands were already named "Horsburgh’s Storm Island' after captain James Horsburgh, the British Admiralty decided to renamed the group of islands "the Spratly Islands."
"The Kingdom of Humanity"
Years after the islands were named after Richard Spratly, British captain James George Meads explored the South China Sea with his ship Modeste during 1863 to 1879. After claiming the Spratlys and Paracels, he later transferred the rights to his relative Franklin M. Meads, who established the "Kingdom of Humanity on April 1914.
Meads, together with Victor L. Anderson, Charles G. Anderson, William Chaplin, Willis Alva Ryant, Paul Willard, and Walter Hutchinson formed this micronation. He took the title of Chief of State and renamed the South China Sea as Humanity Sea. In fact, he incorporated it in their own constitution:
"The Flag of the Kingdom of Humanity shall be Green, White and Black, in any combination of equal proportion, green for life and white and black for the two sides of every matter -- except the principles and ideals of this Constitution which are symbolized by the green of life upon which this Constitution is founded."
In the subsequent years, there was growing foreign interferrence as the Japanese laid their claims in 1917. During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy installed military installations as they occupied the islands for reconnaisance and weather observation.
Franklin Meads eventually transferred his title to Josiah N. Meads in October 1945. A month later, Morton F. Meads became chief of state but it was Willis Alva Ryant who served that position until September 1943. It was said that Morton raised chickens, ducks, and goats and even processed gooney birds for restaurants in Saigon, South Vietnam and Manila, Philippines. Claims from a certain Sultan Songhrati, who lived in Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), were said to be sold in 1946 to Philippine President Manuel Roxas' sister and later to Morton Meads.
The "Monarchs" of the Kingdom
By proclaiming himself King James I in 1878, Meads claimed the archipelago on behalf of the world's downtrodden and persecuted. The colony on the islands was dedicated to "a peaceful existence far removed from the hostilities that engulfed the world of his time." By the time of King James I's death in 1888, there were said to be "more than 2,000 citizens in the Kingdom."
The "Kingdom" under King George I strived to build diplomatic relations with the colonial powers and neighboring nations in order to legitimize their kingdom in the eyes of the world. It was said that he tried win the support of the French with the handling of the Boags Atoll. He even said to have developed a close relationship with the British under the Treaty of Southwark in 1893. He died on September 29, 1914 as Europe was engulfed by the horrors of the Great War.
King Franklin I ruled from 1914 to 1945 with the two world wars playing a significant role in the kingdom's history. His government was forced out of the islands just like most governments-in-exile during the war. He died in Darwin, Australia on June 12, 1945 leaving Prince Josiah as the next king. Unfortunately, the King-in-waiting, who was hoping for a coronation in Southwark, contracted malaria and died on February 8, 1946. King Morton I started rebuilding the kingdom from the ashes of war from 1946 to 1959.
The Establishment of the "Republic of Morac-Songhreti-Meads"
A rival government was established by Christopher Schneider in September 1959 under the weird name of "The Republic of Morac-Songhreti-Meads." The dispute was resolved with the kingdom and republic merged in September 1963.
They believed that "the extirpation of hypocrisy from the surface of the earth must be done; east is west and west is east and this state wishes to render to the elder the great and good peace of love of the state of Morac-Songhreti-Meads." The seal of the Kingdom of Humanity was the same except the inscription read "East is West and West is East and I Am the Twain That Will Make It So."
Outrageous Private Claims over the Islands
On May 15, 1956, Filipino businessman Tomas Cloma claimed a number of reefs and islands in the Spratlys under the name "Free Territory of Freedomland." In a tense diplomatic situation during that time, Cloma almost provoked an international incident on July 7, 1956 when he presented the Republic of China (Taiwan) with a lowered flag on Itu Aba, which was previously hoisted by the ROC Navy. A landing party from the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) raised their flag on the same island a month later.
As the Republic of China moved to occupy the main island in response, Cloma sold his claim to the Philippine government, which annexed (de jure) the islands in 1978, calling them "Kalayaan."
Another interesting and colorful character who claims to be the Grand Duke of the Principality of Freedomland (not Cloma's Freedomland) was a French swindler named Othmar di Schmieder. Arrested by French police in August 1974, he styled himself as Count Othmar di Schmieder Rocca-Forozata and said that his domain is also called Republic of Koneuwe. Just like bogus micronation rulers before him, described his principality as a group of 74 islands west of Borneo.
Whatever happens to the Spratly Islands, a peaceful resolution is important in order to avoid unnecessary show of force. Showing too much expressions of nationalism and xenophobia can bring serious complications among neighboring countries. As for the deluded state of mind of certain individuals who have wild claims that the islands are their private domains, they should think again. They are not your favorite political nuisance Eddie Gil but mentally-challenged replicants hoping to deceive you. Yes, they still do!
Leave the political game to the people who knows how to handle this challenging diplomatic and political mess.
Spratly Islands dispute. Wikipedia.
Spratly Islands. FOTW Flags Of The World.
The Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads Website
Kingdom of Colonia St John Website
Putative States Spratly Archipelago