When does a map become a diplomatic grenade primed to explode in the Indian and Pacific Oceans?
Answer: When Beijing’s angry and a bit threatened Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dictatorship orders its Ministry of Natural Resources to issue—get ready for the title—the “2023 Edition of The Standard Map of China 2023” (SM2023) scant days before a G20 economic conference (held in India) that Chinese emperor Xi Jinping says he will not attend in person. Xi also has a domestic economic crisis on his hands.
OK, Mr. Xi is called a president. However, he rules with imperial demand and disdain. Is Mr. Xi as megalomaniacal as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin? I think so; he’s not as desperate as Mr. Putin—not yet. But understand that in 2004 Mr. Putin began laying out his agitprop case for invading Ukraine and building a 21st-century Russian Empire. In 2014 he kicked off his invasion.
President, czar, or emperor? Apologies to Shakespeare, but what’s in a name when power and territorial gain is the strong man’s game?
When territory is the aim, a map with fake political borders matters. Though the map’s borders are lies and propaganda, the aggressor bully uses his fake map to do several things: (1) to confuse uninformed minds that don’t know geography and history; (2) to lay the predicate for lawfare gambits warping international law and ultimately breaking treaty-established agreements; and (3) to test the diplomatic and military reactions of immediate neighbors and their allies—in the case of SM2023, the reactions of the United States, Japan, and Australia.
By the way, SM2023 was released during what the CCP proclaimed as “National Mapping Awareness Publicity Week.” Sub propaganda for publicity and you’ve got it.
China’s 2012 Nine-Dash Line Map in the South China Sea (SCS) is a cartographic crime and the predicate for a terrible regional war. Here’s the necessary background. With the 2012 map Beijing attempted to illegally project power by claiming 85 percent of the SCS’s 2.2 million square miles. The Nine-Dash Line encroached on territory belonging to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Singapore felt threatened. In 2016, the Hague’s arbitration tribunal supported the Filipino accusation that China had stolen Filipino territory and sea resources. The tribunal relied heavily on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China signed.
The CCP dictatorship ignored the verdict.
With SM2023 Beijing adds a very dangerous tenth dash. Dash-10 scars the sea to the east of Taiwan. Dash-10 elicited this Aug. 31 response from a Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesman (quoted in Maritime Executive Sept. 1): “No matter how the Chinese government twists its position on Taiwan’s sovereignty, it cannot change the objective fact of our country’s existence.”
An Australian source quoted by Breaking Defense said Dash-10 indicates China claims Japanese islands in the Ryukyus. Okinawa is in the Ryukyus. For the record, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam rejected SM2023 as baseless. In fact, a Filipino jurist warned his countrymen that China regards the 10-Dash line as an “international border.” That constitutes an outright invasion and annexation—at least on the map.
Meanwhile, up in the Himalayas: India rejected Beijing’s map. SM2023 depicts the entire Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh and the disputed Aksai Chin plateau (western India) as being sovereign Chinese territory. Chinese forces seized part of the region when they invaded Tibet in 1950. In the 1962 Sino-Indian War, China occupied over 80 percent of the plateau. However, India insistently notes no Chinese map before the 1920s showed Aksai Chin as Chinese territory.
The CCP’s game in the Pacific and the Himalayas is classic potentate imperialism. The modern nation state system is rooted in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) that ended the 30 Years War. Definitive boundaries were to bring peace among kings and princes.
The CCP doesn’t recognize the international rules. In Mr. Xi’s brain China is Earth’s Middle Kingdom. Other tribes, states, entities—they are either trading partners or vassals (tributaries to the emperor).
The CCP’s totalitarians fiercely resists any political and economic interference—foreign and domestic.
For two decades, Beijing has disdained legal borders and seized territory without consequence. Letting Beijing continue to get away with it will result in global disaster.