The Chinese names given to five undersea features in Benham or the Philippine Rise were just the tip of the iceberg, The STAR has learned.

In what some quarters see as a bid to cement its status as a maritime power, Beijing has proposed names to other undersea features in the South China Sea (SCS) and the Pacific Ocean, including in areas where China has territorial disputes with other countries.

Documents from the Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN) of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) showed that China has proposed names to 142 undersea features worldwide since 2013.

The number of proposals made by China significantly increased in recent years, rising from 10 in 2013 to 19 in 2014, 21 in 2015, 50 in 2016 and 42 last year.

Most of the features are located in the Pacific Ocean, although a number are also in the South China Sea, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Out of the 142 proposals, the SCUFN approved the names for 84 undersea features, including the five in Philippine Rise, which was declared part of the Philippine continental shelf in 2012.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said China’s move to name undersea features appears to be part of its overall policy to demonstrate its capabilities.

“They are showing what they can do in terms of maritime research and exploration,” he told The STAR in a phone interview last Friday.

It was Batongbacal who first revealed China’s proposal to name five undersea features in Philippine Rise in recent years.

While this is not prohibited based on SCUFN rules, Batongbacal criticized the Philippine government for failing to act on proposals to name undersea features inside Philippine territory.

“We discovered these features in the course of making the extended continental shelf claim. (The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority) had proposals to name features using names of Filipino trees and birds,” he said.

“Leadership sat on the recommendations. The technical people knew about the naming proposals and made recommendations for action. Leadership sat on them as well,” he added.

He also noted that some of the proposals in Philippine Rise were made by the Chinese Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association, raising concerns over the possible exploitation of resources in the region.

While no Filipino is sitting at the SCUFN, the Philippines is a member of the IHO and could submit proposals, according to Batongbacal.

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