Beijing has demanded the world respond to a new map showing its claims over vast swathes of neighbouring territory in an “objective” and “responsible” way.
It’s just released a revised 2023 edition of its “Standard National Map”.
It’s gone down like a lead balloon over Central and Southeast Asia.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin appeared surprised at the international response, telling a press briefing that “China hopes relevant parties” consider the map in an “objective and rational way” and not “over-interpret” its meaning.
Objectively, the map shows Beijing believes it owns parts of China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Russia.
Rationally, that means these neighbouring countries are in for tough diplomatic, economic – and potentially military – times ahead.
Exactly how Beijing attempts to enforce its claims is open to interpretation.
China’s Ministry of Natural Resources released the map earlier this week.
The Communist Party-controlled Global Times marked the event by proclaiming, “National maps can’t be wrong at all” under the headline “Every single piece”.
India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam have all since issued formal diplomatic protests.
Russia, however, remains silent.
But Wang insisted at a Wednesday media briefing that the updated standard national map was “a routine practice in China’s exercise of sovereignty in accordance with the law”.
The Communist Party has reportedly initiated a “public awareness campaign” across China to emphasise the new territorial claims.
Now, Manila is aiming to do the same in Southeast Asia.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. is leading a push for a joint statement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) rejecting China’s territorial claims and its recent aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
But President Vladimir Putin is yet to respond to Chairman Xi Jinping’s claim over part of Russia’s eastern territory. But the “friendship without limits” may be tested if the embattled Russian leader has his request to visit Beijing later this year granted.
Friends with fuzzy borders
“A correct national map is a symbol of national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” says senior Chinese resources ministry official Li Yongchun.
“The publicity and education of national territory awareness is an important content of patriotic education and an integral part of ideological work in the new era. Maps, text, images and paintings can all describe national territory, but maps are the most common and intuitive form of expression of national territory.”
Russia claims Ukraine to be part of its ancient empire. That’s Putin’s justification for invading.
China has similar imperial-era claims over Russian territory, reaching from Vladivostok in the east to Lake Baikal in the south.
The updated 2023 map formally extends China’s claim over Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island on the Amur River. This is despite a 2008 treaty between Beijing and Moscow purportedly resolving the century-old dispute. The two nations fought a brief but bloody war over this 350sq/km territory in 1969 after Chinese troops attacked a Russian border outpost.
“I don’t think Russian silence means Russian acceptance of the Chinese claim,” says Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and Africa
Putin is seeking to visit China in October to attend its Belt and Road economic investment summit. It will be his first trip outside Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in February last year.
Russia is reliant on China’s diplomatic and economic support in the face of widespread global sanctions.
Beijing is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC). So it is under no obligation, as South Africa was while hosting the BRICS economic summit, to arrest him.
But Xi has been extracting a high price for China’s ongoing support.
He’s been insisting on below-market prices for Russian energy and mineral resources.
He’s openly chastised the Russian leader for threatening to use nuclear weapons.
And the new territorial claim is bound to irritate Putin further.
China’s revised 2023 map adds another dash to the nine previous dashes delineating its claim to the South China Sea. The new 10-dash line expands its reach into Vietnamese, Malaysian and Philippine waters.
The map also shows Beijing wants part of northeast India.
“We have today lodged a strong protest through diplomatic channels with the Chinese side on the so-called 2023 ‘standard map’ of China that lays claim to India’s territory,” an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “We reject these claims as they have no basis. Such steps by the Chinese side only complicate the resolution of the boundary question.”
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) later stated it also has rejected the map.
“The 2016 Arbitral Award invalidated the nine-dashed line. It categorically stated that ‘maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the nine-dash line are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention’,” it said in a statement.
Malaysia also took an openly defiant stance against Beijing.
“Malaysia does not recognise China’s claims in the South China Sea, as outlined in the ‘China Standard Map 2023 Edition’, which covers Malaysia’s maritime area,” the Malaysian Foreign Ministry said. “Malaysia is not bound to China’s 2023 standard map in any way.”
Vietnam declared the new 10-dash line “invalid”. A spokesman for Vietnam’s foreign affairs ministry stated Hanoi “resolutely opposes all China’s claims in the South China Sea based on the dotted line”.
Indonesia has since followed suit. Its Minister for Foreign Affairs stated “any depictions of territorial boundaries and claims must comply with the 1982 UNCLOS. Indonesia will continue to maintain this stance.”
The map’s release comes during heightened tension in the Spratly Islands between Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Chinese Coast Guard vessels have been firing water cannon at Philippine vessels attempting to resupply a remote reef outpost. And a Vietnamese fisherman claims he had his arm broken in a similar attack.
It also comes just days after an apparent thaw in relations between New Delhi and Beijing when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chairman Xi Jinping discussed de-escalating tensions along their disputed border on the sidelines of the BRICS economic summit.