China And The Biggest Territory Grab Since World War II
The New York Times reported that China’s mapping authority, Sinomaps Press, issued a new map of...
The New York Times reported that China’s mapping authority, Sinomaps Press, issued a new map of the country showing 80% of the South China Sea as internal Chinese water.
What’s at issue? Each year, more than half of the world’s annual merchant tonnage passes through the South China Sea as well as a third of the global trade in crude oil and over half of LNG trade.
Beijing’s assertion of sovereignty over that body of water does not necessarily mean it will close the South China Sea off to international commerce. Yet that would be the next step. Given its extremely broad view of its right to regulate coastal traffic, Beijing will undoubtedly define the concept of “innocent passage” narrowly and require vessels entering that sea to obtain its permission beforehand and similarly require aircraft flying over it to do the same. The South China Sea, bordered by eight nations, has long been considered international water.
The New York Times noted Asian diplomats have seen the map with the stunning claim. Its release, the Times article states, was delayed from late 2012 “so that it could be formally authorized by the Chinese senior leadership.” The map is not yet publicly available.
Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China in 1947 issued maps with dashes at the edge of the South China Sea. The ambiguous markings led to the term “cow’s tongue” because of the shape of the area defined by the dashes. Mao Zedong’s victorious People’s Republic in 1949 adopted as its own Chiang’s expansive South China Sea claims.
Hopeful analysts had long maintained that the dashes—nine or ten of them depending on the map—signified China’s claim to only the islands inside the cow’s tongue. Those islands are subject to competing claims by other shoreline nations, specifically, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Taiwan. Moreover, there was great optimism when China ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea in June 1996. That multilateral treaty includes detailed rules on the calculation of territorial waters—generally limiting territorial claims to waters no further than 12 nautical miles from shore—and those rules were inconsistent with Beijing’s general assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea. Accordingly, analysts naturally thought—hoped, actually—that China had abandoned its expansive 1947-based claim.
Yet Beijing, despite treaty obligations, had long been laying the groundwork to close off the South China Sea to other nations. For instance, in August 2011 the official Xinhua News Agency issued a report stating China had “three million square kilometers of territorial waters.” It was impossible for the country to get to that figure without including its claim to most of the 2.6 million square kilometers of the South China Sea.
Moreover, in that same month Xinhua was even clearer when it asserted that the islands in the South China Sea “and surrounding waters” were “part of China’s core interests.” By using “core interests,” Beijing was signaling it could never compromise China’s sovereignty over either the islands or those waters.
In any event, Beijing’s new map, according to those who have seen it, removes any ambiguity by converting the dashes into a national boundary. All islands and waters inside the line, therefore, are China’s, at least according to the Chinese. It is the biggest attempted grab of territory since World War II.
The new map will roil Asian nations, of course. Last year, Beijing used force to seize Philippine territory, Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. The United States, despite its treaty obligations to defend the Philippines, let the Chinese take what they wanted. Nobody in the White House wanted to confront China, and there were voices in the Pentagon saying that China’s aggression served the Philippines right for kicking American forces out of the Clark and Subic bases. Now, the Chinese are going after Ayungin Shoal, long considered Philippine territory.
The ongoing seizure of pieces of the Philippines is an indirect challenge to America. Now, however, the issuance of the new map means Beijing has taken on Washington directly. If there has been any consistent American foreign policy over the course of two centuries, it has been the defense of freedom of navigation.
Why is this important? The world has prospered because of trade conducted freely over wide seas lanes and air routes. So China’s claim to the South China Sea, if permitted to stand, will mark the end of the open architecture of the Post-War world.
At the end of this week, President Obama will meet his Chinese counterpart,Xi Jinping, in Rancho Mirage for two days of intensive talks. The White House, in announcing the meeting on May 20, said it wanted to “discuss ways to enhance cooperation.” The administration is hoping to build an enduring partnership with China’s increasingly militant one-party state and is trying to avoid disagreement.
Yet on the Beijing’s sea claims there can be no compromise. Either the South China Sea is Chinese or it is international water. The stakes—for China, for the United States, for the international community—are hard to overstate.
CHINESE MISSILE AIMED AT SOUTHEAST ASIA VIDEO: