China’s New National Map Causes Protests Amongst Neighbouring Countries

China’s neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region are protesting the new “standard” national map the country published on August 28th. According to A.P. News, the map claims most of the South China Sea and contested parts of India and Russia, including a 10th dash line to the east of Taiwan. India was the first to reject the map after its release, followed by Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan. According to the B.B.C.,the Philippines also joined, protesting the Chinese claim in the South China Sea. As of Sunday, A.P. News reports, critical Chinese support for the war on Ukraine has kept Russia from responding.

“Such steps by the Chinese side only complicate the resolution of the boundary question,” said Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi. According to The Independent, the Philippines called on China to “act responsibly and abide by its obligations,” and Taiwan remarked that the map “cannot change the objective fact of our country’s existence,” clearly stating that it is “absolutely not part of the People’s Republic of China.”

The United States also reacted with hostility, with the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet saying that China’s “aggressive behaviour” in the South China Sea must be challenged and checked, according to the B.B.C. 

For China’s part, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Webin told reporters last Thursday that “China’s stance on the South China Sea is consistent and clear,” adding that China “hope[s] that the relevant sides can see it in an objective and rational way.”

China claims the map was updated purely as the most recent iteration of an annual project, but could making the edits at this time in particular be worth risking protests from multiple countries? A.P. News suggests that China chose to release the new map close to when the B.R.I.C.S. nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) would meet, and just before meetings with A.S.E.A.N. and the G20, as a strategic maneuver to show its firm stance on territorial issues. Many of the countries protesting the new map’s claims belong to one or more of these blocs. The backlash from the map’s release may be risky for China’s territorial claims, but the P.R.C. has decided to ensure that these countries are freshly aware of those claims before it begins any discussion.

Territorial disputes between China and other countries are not new. In fact, Sino-Indian relations have intensified in recent years. Last December, Chinese and Indian troops clashed along the two countries’ 2,100-mile-long contested border – known as the Line of Actual Control (L.A.C.), according to the United States Institute of Peace (U.S.I.P.). This brawl was the worst since 2020, the U.S.I.P. added, when fighting in the Galwan Valley killed at least 20 Indian soldiers and 4 Chinese troopers, prompting both sides to increase militarization of their border policies. Now, China has claimed Arunachal Pradesh (in the eastern Himalayas) as part of southern Tibet, Al Jazeera says, renaming 11 places as being within the region it calls “Zangnan.”

China has also been the source of tensions in the South China Sea since 2009, when it made a maximalist claim known as the “nine-dash line” including much water already claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia under the Chinese border. The Sea’s maritime and strategic importance has spurred China to expand its territory in the area, thereby causing disputes with the previously mentioned countries. In 2016, The Manila Times reports, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (P.C.A.) sided with the Philippines’ petition and invalidated Beijing’s claim of historic rights over the bulk of the South China Sea, as well as invalidating the “nine-dash line.” Therefore, the new map’s “ten-dash line” has drawn protests from China’s neighbours – especially coastal Filipinos, the B.B.C. says, who worry that the nation’s “aggressive behaviours” will prevent fishing and other jobs they depend on for their livelihoods.

China has shown the firm stance it is willing to take against the P.C.A.’s 2016 arbitration and the historical claims of other nations, displaying the new map to the international community in order to deliver the message that it remains committed to pursuing these territories. The action brings a worry that the P.R.C. may not comply with the co-operation it must participate in with B.R.I.C.S., A.S.E.A.N., and the G20, possibly speeding the re-emergence of territorial disputes and disrupting international and regional co-operation. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming A.S.E.A.N. and G20 summits will turn out amidst these hostile feelings.