Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

China's Nine-Dashed Map: Continuing Maritime Source of Geopolitical Tension

Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

China's Nine-Dashed Map: Continuing Maritime Source of Geopolitical Tension

Article excerpt

Introduction

The beginning of Fall 2015 sees international attention justifiably focused on the military confrontation between the U.S. and various allies and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and spillover refugee migration from this conflict into the European Union. International geopolitical attention during this year has also been focused on Russian annexation of Crimea and Moscow's aggressiveness toward Ukraine, and ongoing areas of crisis involving Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. While all of these international security crisis centers are important, geopolitical observers must also recognize the SCS' increasing strategic importance and source of international tension during the second decade of this millennium.

This body of water encompasses nations as diverse as China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia and affects the trading and strategic interests of many world countries including the Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. It is a semi-enclosed area bordered on the west by Vietnam, on the east by Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines, on the south by Indonesia and Malaysia, and on the north by China and Taiwan covering an area approximately 550-650 nautical miles wide and a length of over 1,200 nautical miles. China's growing diplomatic, economic, and military power have increased Beijing's assertiveness toward the SCS and culminated in it issuing the following nine-dashed map to highlight its territorial, island, seabed, and waterborne claims to this region with an another map reflecting the disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands in the SCS claimed by adjacent countries. Concern over increasing Chinese assertiveness in the SCS and the issuance of this map is reflected in multiple sources.1

Researching this region's geopolitical influence and significance is important for Chinese scholars as reflected in an increase in the number of published journal articles on the nine-dashed map between January 2000-December 2012 from 21 between 2000-2002 to 189 between 2010-2012 according to a search of the database China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI).2 Such research must also be of global provenance and significance due to the estimated 40% of international trade passing through SCS waters, the increasing levels of defense spending by adjoining countries, SCS' potential fossil fuel energy resources, and ongoing Chinese efforts to build floating islands in the SCS and land reclamation efforts including constructing a new runway on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Archipelago, creating land masses in the Spratly's Subu Reef, and developing a helipad and air defense site on Gavin Reef to bolster its geopolitical claims and deter the interests of geographically adjoining claimant powers and the geopolitical interests of powers as far away as the United States. This behavior by Beijing is contrary to the 2002 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea which China has signed and urges ASEAN countries to respect freedom of navigation and regional overflight in this area while also exercising self-restraint in conducting activities which could escalate disputes or affect regional stability such as occupying uninhabited islands or other features including reefs, shoals, and cays. Chinese behavior and policies in the SCS also need to be critical parts of foreign and national security policy discussion during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.3

These claims, according to Beijing, reflect and are justified by the experience of historic surveying expeditions, fishing, and naval activities dating back to the 15th century. Claims to this area are also reflected in a 1947 map drawn by the defunct Kuomintang government and reaffirmed in official maps published by the People's Republic of China from 1949-present. China's lofty sense of its historical maritime influence was demonstrated in an October 24, 2003 address to the Australian Parliament, when Chinese President Hu Jintao claimed that Chinese mariner Zheng He's exploration fleet had sailed as far south as Australia in the 1420s. …

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