New Chinese map of South China Sea: Discovery or fabrication?


Chinese scholars have recently published a ‘new map of People’s Republic of China’. It is claimed by the Chinese scientists that the map was originally published in 1951 which has now been ‘discovered’ through a painstaking process of national archival investigation. It is further claimed that this provides a new clarity to the precise extent of China’s official claims in the disputed waters in the South China Sea.

The solid-line 1951 map cited in the Guanghua and Geosciences Club’s study. Source: Chinese Science Bulletin.

The main difference between this map and the maps so far published by China is that this map shows instead of dotted lines (as reflected in China’s U-shaped nine or ten-dash lines claim to nearly all of the South China Sea), a solid continuous ‘national boundary line and administrative region line’. The Chinese scholars who were involved in the national archival investigation state that the historical analysis of the map proves beyond dispute that the “U-boundary line is the border of China’s territorial sea” in the South China Sea. They further claim that the solid administrative line ‘definitely indicated the Chinese sovereignty in the enclosed U shaped region of the South China Sea’.

While the study, edited by the Guanghua and Geosciences Club and published by SDX Joint Publishing Company, has not been formally endorsed by the Chinese government, it is well known that nothing can be undertaken and published by the academy without the permission from the top. They also refused to answer as to how this map was discovered. These raise serious doubts about the genuineness of the discovery. A look at the Chinese manoeuvrings to dominate the region needs to be kept in the view to understand the Chinese game plan behind this episode.

First, since the last quarter of the 20th century, China had been trying to expand its naval boundaries in the South China Sea. China since 1970s has been step-by-step grabbing features in the South China Sea first by waging war against Vietnam and then by exploiting opportunities for acquiring features. There is a long list of islands, shoals and features being brought under her control through the ‘Salami Tactics’. The last feature occupied by China was the Scarborough Shoal which Philippines claims.