With the sponsorship and support from the Chinese Government, scholars will continue to diligently sought after and manipulate historical evidence in the name of science. However, if Chinese persists in their mistakes, they would face confusions and obstructions; and the more they try to explain history, the more likely they would meet dead end.
In April 2018, the South China Morning Post, an English language daily newspaper owned by the Alibaba Group (China), introduced a study by six scholars under the auspices of the Chinese Government on the so-called “U-shaped line map”. These scholars were delighted with the new findings; they suggested that this U-shaped line, also known as the continuous nine-dash line, can be considered China’s maritime border.
The original article on the Chinese Journal of Science in March, 2017 (refer to translation document on South China Sea studies website here) suggests many interesting things about the author’s imagination. Once again, Chinese scholars have abandoned academic ethical standards for political propaganda by coercing the objectivity and authenticity of history and science. This article’s publication shows that China is still keeping the hope to save the nine-dash line claims despite being opposed worldwide and rejected by the Arbitration Tribunal of the South China Sea Arbitration (The Republic of Philippines vs. The People’s Republic of China) in July, 2016.
It is extremely absurd that what Chinese scientists have sought and had confident in as an “undeniable evidence of China’s sovereignty over South China Sea” is just a secondary map located at the corner of a map titled “Map of the Administrative Divisions Nationwide” published in 1951 by Guang Hua and the Chinese Geo-Science Union. It is fortunate that the magnifying glass has been invented; therefore, Chinese scientists can blow up the map into an evidence of China’s so-called sovereignty.
The authenticity of this discovery raises questions simply because: China is a big country with big “creativity”. China has always claimed to have found “ancient” artifacts in the Paracel and Spratly areas of Vietnam, while China has found these areas only in recent time according to archeology discoveries. Apparently, the facts speak for themselves.
Apart from the ambiguous authenticity and accuracy of the above documents, some of these Chinese scientists’ points of argument are also preposterous. This map is not enough to constitute China’s maritime border because of reasons herein: First, the delimitation and identification of borders must be made through international negotiations by treaties between concerning countries. A unilateral declaration of a country over its border with another country has no legal effect. Second, according to Professor Carl Thayer of Australian Defense Force Academy, in international law, a single map has no value for asserting national sovereignty unless it comes with an international agreement or a valid domestic and international administrative document. This map is not owned by the Chinese Government but rather by an association namely the Chinese Geo-science Union; therefore, this discovery is neither a valid historical evidence for China, nor constitutes a maritime border in the South China Sea.
As can be seen, Chinese scholars would do whatever it takes to prove a postulate that has been fossilized in their belief. Their study suggested that the U-shaped line in the 1951 map was drawn by two line; the black line supposedly was the standard borders determined by Chinese map publisher, and the red line was assumed to be the administrative divisions.
Chinese scholars put many effort in “elaborating” this map by carefully notes on the “borders’ marker” and the “administrative divisions’ marker” in order to prove the U-shaped line to be China’s maritime border. However, when looking at the map, these two black and red lines are nothing but arbitrary lines.
The question is why one border line was presented by two different lines? If they were the same, then why they did not coincide? Assuming map drawing technology of that period were under developed; nevertheless, it is unreasonable to had national borders drawn into two lines, with uneven gaps between the two. For a 1:30,000,000 map as described, those uneven gaps can stretch up to dozens of nautical miles.
In addition, the lower border of this map went through the U-shaped line, cut out a part of the so-called maritime border. It shows how arbitrary drawn this U-shaped line is.
Confusing U-shaped matrix
Chinese scholars are known for making the world baffle. China have mentioned about evidences for the nine-dash line, one first appeared in 1914 and drawn by a person named Hu Jinjie (who remained incognito); another is a continuous lined map drawn by Bai Meichu in 1936 (personal work); and the supposedly most official evidence is the dash lined map published by the Republic of China in 1948. The common feature of those maps is the lack of precise location and geographic coordination of these lines. Obviously, China has no reason to determine the precise coordination, since they can avoid shooting themselves in the foot.
The U-shaped line was sometimes drawn in 11 dashes, other times was drawn in 9 dashes or 10 dashes. Since 1947, U-shaped line has been referred to as a dashed line. Recently, there has been an idea to link those dashes together. Moreover, this study even introduced a new map namely the “seven-dashed U-shaped line” published by the World Association of Geosciences in 1951.
Apparently, in order to link the dashes, Chinese scholars have to find a theory to explain the constant transfiguration of the U-shape line through history. Interestingly, Chinese scholars’ explanation is that the dash lines represent “moving sea water”. Does it mean that a continuous line implies sea water stand still? What an unscientific fallacy.
Chinese scholars seem to ignore the fact that in the past, China had been a continental power rather than a marine power; and China had never considered waters as a national territory. Most of pre-twentieth century China’s maps considered Hainan as its southernmost territory. In fact, until 1951, South China Sea had been an open sea for coastal states to exploit resources and fishing and for other countries’ vessels to access freely.
Fallacy, ambiguity and illegality
Essentially, the research does not clarify China’s basis and claims over South China Sea. No matter what the U-shaped line is, the world wants China to public its exact positions as well as the status of the waters within the U-shaped line.
This publication of Chinese scholars lacks order and legal consistency. The use of the term “maritime borders” implies that China may claim sovereignty over that waters the same as it may over land. However, in this article, authors said that vessels could “travel harmlessly over this area”, which implied that this area is China’s “territorial sea”. Even more disturbingly, when interviewed by the Morning Nanhua Post, these authors claimed that China has the rights over natural resources inside the sea, while other countries has the right to “travel freely”, which implied that this waters was an “Exclusive economic zone” as defined by UNCLOS in 1982.
All of China’s arguments to protect their claims so far have not had a solid legal basis. Whatever the U-shaped line is and wherever its coordination is, all of the above explanations are not coordinate with international law. The Arbitral Tribunal's verdict confirms that the historical claim within the Cattle Tongue Line is contrary to UNCLOS, in which China is a member. Doctor Ian J. Storey, senior researcher at the Institute of South East Asia study, said that if China officially announced the so-called “U-shaped maritime borders in South China Sea” as proposed in this study, it could be considered a complete denial to the Arbitral Tribunal’s verdict in July, 2016.
Blowing smoke and its consequences
The biggest question is why Chinese scholars and Chinese press published this “great discovery” at this time, and what their goal is. After the Philippines – China trials over South China Sea, China on one hand attacked the judges and ignored their verdict, on the other hand contrived every method, including using “scientists” to proved the rejected claim. On the field, China continues to quietly increase militarization and deepen penetration into other countries’ waters.
The chain of events shows that the Arbitral tribunal’s verdict is one of the largest obstacles of China in its quest to dominate the South China Sea. International public opinion forces China to adopt a “testing” approach instead of the “assertive” approach as before. The act of using “scholars” to reverse the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision shows that China is still trying “CPR” for the illegal nine-dash line.
It is also said that, just like their previous actions, China was just blowing smoke. In September, 2017, China ventured the concept of “Four Sha” to probe the public opinion; however, it was strongly opposed. Recently, China has used the scholar card to test the “new bottle” 1951 map, but its essence is just the “old wine” – China’s territory claims.
What is worrying, however, is that China may fall victim to their own imagination, thereby damaging regional peace and stability. From the domestic perspective, China can use the study to deal with its domestic public opinion after the catastrophic failure at the Arbitral Tribunal. One day, China might let the fallacy they made manipulate their mind and actions. Therefore, it is said that if China keep pushing and made the U-shaped line official, other countries will have to resort to legal instruments against China.
Under the sponsorship and support of China Government, scholars might diligently sought after and fabricate historical evidence in the name of science. The 1951 map is neither the beginning nor the end of a long process. If China insists in their mistake, China would go into dead end. The U-shaped line would not bring China sovereignty and harmony, but instead bring tensions with its neighbors and the aloofness of the world.
No matter how hard China try, it is impossible to disprove the historical evidence of Vietnam’s Sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos. The waves they make cannot change the historical fact that China used arms to invade the Paracel in 1974 and invade some entities in the Spratly in 1988. No matter how much artifacts that China “discover”, they cannot deny the sovereignty of other countries over adjacent seas and offshore as regulated by the UNCLOS in 1982. Despite being powerful, China cannot violate international law and bribe public opinion./.