Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio earlier pointed out in his e-book that the accounts saying Zheng He visited the Philippines have no basis.
AP/Bullit Marquez
Carpio quashes Xi's false assertion on ancient Chinese explorer used to justify sea claims
Gaea Katreena Cabico ( - November 21, 2018 - 5:05pm

MANILA, Philippines — Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio on Wednesday debunked the claim of Chinese President Xi Jinping that a Chinese explorer visited the Philippines 600 years ago—a narrative often cited by Beijing to defend its historic rights, under the nine-dash line, to the entire South China Sea.

Ahead of his two-day visit to the country, Xi wrote an opinion piece describing how the relations between the Philippines and China have rebounded since a low point in 2016 when an international tribunal ruled in favor of Manila.

In the piece, which has been carried even by Philippine media, the Chinese president claimed that Chinese navigator Zheng He visited the Philippines more than 600 years ago.

“Over 600 years ago, Chinese navigator Zheng He made multiple visits to the Manila Bay, Visayas and Sulu on his seven overseas voyages seeking friendship and cooperation,” Xi wrote.

But Carpio, a staunch defender of the Philippines’ claim in the region, quashed the assertion of the Chinese leader.

“That is a historical falsehood. Zheng He never visited the Philippines,” Carpio said.

Carpio earlier pointed out in his e-book that the accounts saying Zheng He visited the Philippines have no basis.

“The accounts saying that he did were certainly unfounded as pointed out by Prof. Hsu Yun-Ts’iao. When Prof. Chiao-min Hsieh of the Catholic University of America wrote that Zheng He supposedly visited the Philippines, he thought that Chan Cheng, which appeared in accounts written by members of Zheng He’s expedition, was an old Chinese name for the Philippines. However, the word Chan Cheng was actually the Ming Dynasty name for a Malay state in Indochina,” he explained.

Carpio also stressed that neither the sea voyages of Zheng He nor historical names can serve as bases for any claim to the South China Sea.

The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the West Philippine Sea.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China’s nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters is invalid.

“The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line,” the Hague-based tribunal said.

Who is Zheng He?

Mohan Malik, a professor at Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, wrote in 2013 that “China makes use of the early-fifteenth-century expeditions of Zheng He to the Indian Ocean and Africa" in claiming a strong maritime tradition.

Zheng He was an admiral, who led repeated naval expeditions to project the power of Ming Dynasty early in the 15th century. He is famous for commanding seven voyages to Malacca, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kenya.

“Zheng He never claimed for China any of the territories he visited, certainly not the oceans and seas he traversed,” Carpio wrote.

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