MANILA, Jul 14 – Google has quietly removed the Chinese name for a South China Sea shoal bitterly disputed by Beijing and Manila from its maps service, following an outcry from Filipinos.
The Google Maps website on Tuesday referred to the rich fishing ground — a subject of a case lodged by the Philippines at an international arbitration tribunal — by its international name, Scarborough Shoal.
The service had earlier labelled the shoal as part of China’s Zhongsha island chain, prompting an online campaign demanding that the Internet giant stop identifying the outcrop as part of Chinese territory.
“We’ve updated Google Maps to fix the issue. We understand that geographic names can raise deep emotions which is why we worked quickly once this was brought to our attention,” Google’s office in Manila said in a statement.
Scarborough Shoal lies 220 kilometres (140 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon and 650 kilometres from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.
China has controlled the shoal since 2012, following a brief standoff with the Philippines.
Since then, the Philippines has accused the Chinese coast guard of harassing Filipino fishermen at the shoal, including robbing them of their catch at gunpoint earlier this year.
Campaigns website Change.org began a petition last week to get Google Maps to drop the Chinese name of the shoal on its site. The petition drew close to 2,000 supporters.
“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,” the petition read.
“Google maps showing this is part of Zhongsha island chain gives credence to what is plainly a territory grab that peace loving nations should stand against.”
Last week, a United Nations-backed tribunal at The Hague started hearing a Philippine petition to declare illegal China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea that overlap those of the Philippines.
On Monday, Filipino officials wrapped up arguments to convince the panel it had jurisdiction over the case, presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the Philippines was “confident” the tribunal would assume jurisdiction.
“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 Manila broadcaster ABS-CBN on Tuesday.