The Philippines is one of several Southeast Asian nations that is challenging China’s claim to various islands in what Chinese call the South China Sea, but what people in the Philippines refer to as the West Philippine Sea.

I know that in Vietnam historians have tried to find evidence that the Spratley and Paracel Islands have long been part of the “sovereign territory” of Vietnam, but I’m not sure if Filipino historians have tried to do the same.

map1

In case they haven’t, I thought I’d introduce a couple of maps from the 1770s that were created by a Spaniard (presumably connected to the Spanish colony in the Philippines at that time).

Both of these maps show a group of islands with a line around them.

map2

What does that line mean? And what “nation” claimed these islands at that time to be its “sovereign territory”? Most likely none, since the concept of “sovereign territory” didn’t exist in the region at that time, but maps like these also certainly don’t give the sense that those islands “belonged” to China either.

These maps are held in the US Library of Congress and can be accessed here and here.