Geographer: China’s Claim to South China Sea Not Rooted in History


A British geographer and journalist described China’s claims to large swaths of seas and land formations off its coast are based on 20th-century events — from the Boxer Rebellion to the defeat of Japan in World War II — and not deeply rooted in its history.

This assertion brought several heated questions from the audience.

Bill Hayton, an associate fellow at London’s Chatham House and the author of South China Sea, The Struggle for Power in Asia, said in response to a question that Beijing’s claims are valid “because [these territories] are ours” historically, said “a hundred years ago you [Chinese citizens] wouldn’t feel” the same way. For much of China’s past, most of the South China Sea was viewed as “a place where pirates roam.”

Speaking Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank, he added, now, “every Chinese child is taught James Shoal is the southernmost part of Chinese territory.” The shoal is under water and claimed by China, Taiwan and Malaysia. It is more than 1,000 miles from the Chinese mainland and 50 miles from the Malaysia coast.