Joining the dashes
The South China Sea’s littoral states will fight in the museums, in the archives and on the maps
Oct 4th 2014 | From the print edition
THE countries around the South China Sea have long engaged in competitive cartography. It is now becoming a spectator sport. In June, at an exhibition in Haiphong, Vietnam showed off some of its maps. In September exhibitions opened in both Manila and Taipei of material that the governments of the Philippines and Taiwan hope will bolster their respective claims in the sea. On paper, Taiwan’s claim is identical to that of China, whose assertion of sovereignty over most of the sea, within a vast mysterious U-shaped line around its edges, has alarmed its neighbours. So Taiwan’s archives have attracted keen interest. What is more, Taiwan’s elucidation of its claim is a setback for China.
The Taipei exhibition for the first time put on display a small portion of the archives that accompanied Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist party, when they fled Mao Zedong’s victorious Communists to the island in 1949. At the exhibition’s opening, Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, clarified what the KMT government was claiming in 1947 when it asserted sovereignty over islands held during the second world war by the Japanese. Unlike China, which has never spelled out whether it is claiming everything inside its U-shaped line—islands, rocks, shoals, reefs, fish, oil, gas and water—or just the islands, Mr Ma was clear that the claim was limited to islands and 3 to 12 nautical miles of their adjacent waters. There were, he said, “no other so-called claims to sea regions”.