Have you heard about the historic Nine-dash line in the South China Sea? As it turns out, China might’ve read the historians’ context wrongly and introduced a tenth dash in a newly drawn map released recently.
But, that’s not the only assertion it has made so far. As per the 2023 edition of China’s standard map, its ever-expanding territorial claims range from the contested areas of India to even claiming parts of Russia, China’s so-called ally.
Since its release earlier this month, China’s ambitious imperial map has now attracted sharp reactions even from countries not known for frequently speaking up against Beijing.
The ‘new’ map shows Arunachal Pradesh, the north-eastern state near to the Himalayas, as Chinese, as well as the disputed Aksai Chin plateau. Multiple nations, including former allies of China whose sovereignty has been encroached, have now mounted official objections with the latest being Russia.
Russia is not the only friendly nation that has strangled relations with Beijing. Even the smaller nations like Brunei and the Philippines have now been prudent of China’s growing imperialist ambitions. Despite China’s recurring tactic of land-grabbing by making false claims, such nations were once mere spectators of its sinister efforts.
Released in a time between the BRICS and the G20 summit, this new sketch defies even the Law of the sea or rather, does it use them? We are just not sure.
The new map negates the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) that secures the Exclusive Economic Zones of Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. But again, it constructs artificial islands by dredging sand onto reefs which are then concreted to make permanent bases in the South China Sea.
Because once you own an island anywhere in the sea, an area up to 12 nautical miles becomes its territorial water and up to 200 nautical miles becomes its EEZ. India also has high stakes in the South China Sea as nearly 55% of India’s trade with the Indo-Pacific region passes through these waters.
In the 2023 edition of China’s ‘standard map’ uploaded by the Ministry of Natural Resources on the website of its standard map service, Aksai Chin and Arunachal are among the south and south-east Asian territories marked within the Chinese borders. China’s state-run Global Times, in a post on microblogging platform X (formerly Twitter), stated: “This map is compiled based on the drawing method of national boundaries of China and various countries in the world.”
The new China map, released on August 28, lays claim over all of Arunachal, which Beijing considers to be a part of southern Tibet, and Aksai Chin, which remains disputed after the 1962 war.
India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said while reacting to the Chinese move, “Just making absurd claims does not make other people’s territories yours.”
China and India share a de facto border, which is a disputed 3,440 km long border along the Himalayas – called the Line of Actual Control, or LAC – which is poorly demarcated. Aksai Chin, which has been an indisputable territory of India since time immemorial, was also shown within China’s territory in the latest map.
From 1917 to 1933, China displayed the area as per the mutually agreed Johnson line through its Postal Atlas, which is under the Indian administrative region. However, soon after the 1962 Indo-China war, the matter snowballed into a tense conflict, proving to be diplomatically degrading for the two nations.
What are other countries saying?
Philippines:The Philippines, which has a long-running dispute with China over the South China Sea, said the map is “illegal and has no basis under international law.”
Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the President of the Philippines, has vowed to continue defending the country’s territory after China released the 2023 map that features a new 10-dash line that defines its boundaries in the West Philippine Sea. “We, of course, will continue to defend our territorial sovereignty, our territorial rights,” he said.
He added, “We have not changed our approach. It is other countries around us that have changed their approachâ€æ the nine-dash line has been extended to the 10-dash line,” Marcos said.”
Malaysia: China’s new map also overlaps with Malaysia’s hydrocarbon-rich EEZ off the coasts of Sabah and Sarawak, which prompted the Kuala Lumpur government to file for a formal diplomatic protest.
Malaysia also said it does not recognise the map, calling it a “provocation”. The Malaysian foreign minister Zambry Abdul Kadir also said that it will send a protest note to China over the latter’s claims on the South China Sea which also covers Malaysia’s maritime interests. The map holds no binding authority over Malaysia, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Malaysian government described the South China Sea issue as “complex and sensitive”, adding that the dispute must be “handled peacefully and rationally through dialogue” based on international law. It also added that it has supported the creation of a code of conduct for the disputed waters, as well the goal of finalising the code as early as possible.
Vietnam: A spokeswoman for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the sovereignty and maritime claims outlined on the map, in particular, the inclusion of the Paracel and Spratly island chains, were “invalid”.
Spokeswoman Pham Thu Hang said that the claims had “violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong (Spratly) archipelagos, as well as its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its waters as stipulated in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The country resolutely rejects any claims in the East Sea by China that are based on a dashed line”.
Against this backdrop, Vietnamese fishermen claimed a Chinese vessel last week attacked and injured them with a high-pressure water cannon in the South China Sea.
Taiwan: Taiwan, a country which China claims as its own, also rejected the map, saying it is “not recognised by the international community.” Foreign ministry spokesperson Jeff Liu told Taiwan News that “Taiwan, the Republic of China, is a sovereign and independent country that is not subordinate to the People’s Republic of China.”
Indonesia: Indonesia’s Natuna islet cluster, located within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, is claimed by China within its “ten dash line” over the South China Sea. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi commented on the newly published China’s 2023 standard map which had previously been protested by India and Malaysia over territorial claims.
Minister Retno said that the drawing of territorial lines, including China’s standard map, must be in accordance with international laws.
“The drawing of any [territorial] lines, any claims, must be in accordance with UNCLOS 1982 (the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” she claimed after a meeting with Commission I of the House of Representatives in Jakarta on Thursday, August 31, 2023.
How are China’s allies reacting?
Nepal: The new Chinese map also drew attention in Kathmandu.This is for a seemingly different reason. China has not laid any claims on Nepal’s territory, but instead it doesn’t recognize the areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura, which were incorporated by Nepal into the official Nepali map in May 2020. After Nepal had issued the map, India termed it as “unjustified cartographic assertion”.
“Nepal stands firm and clear on its political and administrative map unanimously approved by the parliament of Nepal in 2020. The government of Nepal unequivocally believes that this map must be respected by our neighbours as well as the international community. Nepal remains committed to resolving the boundary matters through dialogues and diplomacy,” the spokesperson said on September 1.
Russia: Russia rejected the Chinese map and said that the territory that China has claimed as its own has already been settled through an agreement.
There is also a row over the Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island, which China has claimed in its entirety in the new map. The island and the surrounding region is at the confluence of the Ussuri and Amur rivers that separate Russia and China. The questions about control of the region were first raised around 1860.
In 2005, however, a deal was reached to settle the Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island dispute and the split of the island was completed by 2008, said Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
Russia’s Information minister said that the “resolution” of the dispute “was the result of many years of efforts by both sides, a reflection of the high level of relations between the two countries, made an important contribution to ensuring security and stability in the region, and is a successful example of resolving border disputes for all countries of the world”.
History of China’s territorial disputes
This is indeed not the first time that China has employed such tactics, particularly in the case of India. In April of the current year, China reportedly had renamed as many as 11 Indian locations, including mountain peaks, rivers, and residential areas.
Previously, in 2017 and 2021, China’s Civil Affairs Ministry had reportedly renamed other Indian locations, triggering another political confrontation, with India calling this out as China’s expansionist plans.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing on August 30 that “China’s position on the South China Sea is consistent and clear. The competent authorities of China routinely publish standard maps of various types every year, which aims to make standard maps available to all sectors of society and raise public awareness of the standardized use of maps. We hope parties concerned can view it in an objective and rational light.”
The day before, Wang responded to India’s protest by saying “We hope relevant sides can stay objective and calm, and refrain from over-interpreting the issue.”
Amidst the rising debates, officials from the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Planning and Natural Resources said “National maps can’t be wrong at all”, during an event on National Surveying and Mapping Law Publicity Day at the Pudong Library in order to raise public awareness toward China’s standard map.
In total, China has locked horns with at least 17 territorial disputes along its frontier and in the East and South China Seas although it only shares borders with 14 countries.
To the north, China shares a border with Russia, Mongolia, and North Korea. Along China’s western border, its neighbours are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, while along the south, the bordering countries are India, Bhutan, Burma, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, and an internal border with Macau.
As per the Journal of Public and International Affairs by Princeton University released in May this year, Bhutan, India, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Myanmar, North Korea, South Korea, Nepal, Tajikistan and the South China Sea nations of the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia continue to be among nations sharing a history of border disputes with China.