China's newly launched 2023 edition of the standard map has infuriated its neighbouring countries. The map is consistent with China's previous claims, which have extended its jurisdiction over disputed areas along India and Russia's borders and in the South China Sea.
However, this time, countries in South and Southeast Asia are more vocal in speaking out against China’s territorial claims. Thus far, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Indonesia have made strong public statements regarding the map.
Officially launched on August 28 by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the 2023 Chinese map, like its previous versions, claims jurisdictions over the entire South China Sea, two disputed regions, Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin, along India and China's border, as well as half of Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island which belongs to Russia according to a Sino-Russia border agreement in 2008.
In response to the diplomatic protests, China urged its neighbours to stay calm as there are no real changes to the map. However, the context has changed.
The disputed South China Sea
China has become more aggressive in establishing its military presence around the Paracel Islands near Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands near the Philippines EEZ through military drills, the construction of artificial islands and permanent facilities and deployment of large vessels to patrol in the disputed area in the past two decades. The aim is to control fishing operations, oil and gas exploration activities, and seabed internet cable-laying operations.
China enacted Provisions on Conditions for Maritime Administrative Licensing, which requires foreign ships when entering “sea areas under the jurisdiction of China,” to notify related Chinese authorities. After China's pandemic reopening, there have been more and more conflicts between Chinese Coast Guard vessels and foreign fishing vessels in the disputed seas.
In reaction to China's aggression in the region, the U.S. has started conducting joint drills with the Philippines and Indonesia. And China is not backing off, as spelled out by Zhao DaShuai, a Chinese propaganda handle, on X (formerly known as Twitter) on the date when the 2023 map was released:
J-11s stationed on Paracel islands in the South China Sea.
Having a permanent air presence over the South China Sea is essential for China to rapidly respond to emerging threats. pic.twitter.com/4efJbnR4fp
— Zhao DaShuai 无条件爱国🇨🇳 (@zhao_dashuai) August 28, 2023
Tensions are mounting in the troubled sea. Last month, Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked two Philippine ships from providing supplies to a rusting vessel stationed on the Second Thomas Shoal:
China Coast Guard blocked and used water cannon Philippine vessels on a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Saturday (Aug. 5). The PH military and coast guard issued brief statements condemning the incident pic.twitter.com/zC7qyGwms2
— Frances Mangosing (@FMangosingINQ) August 6, 2023
While it was a minor clash, the incident shows that China’s territorial claim is more than symbolic.
Hence, as China launched the 2023 standard map, major ASEAN members, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia took the opportunity to criticize China for violating the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which allows coastal nations to protect resources within their EEZ and ensures the freedom of the high seas for vessels and aircraft. China has signed the UNCLOS.
The popular sentiment among Southeast Asians is best reflected in Malaysia blogger Kenny Lee’s viral Facebook post:
All around the world, which country would draw its sea jurisdiction that stretches out 12 nautical miles from its coast to the high seas, seizes the whole ocean and blocks major international vessel paths? It even draws its sea jurisdiction thousands of kilometres away from its own coastal areas, blocking other countries’ doorway.
According to this ten-dash map, we can’t even step out of our coastal gateway… This map shows that the Chinese Communist Party has no respect for its neighbouring countries; this is a thuggish imperialist act.
During a FIBA basketball game between China and the Philippines in Manila, several senators wore a shirt displaying the text ‘West Philippine Sea’ in reference to the country’s name for the South China Sea within its EEZ. Filipino senators have issued statements rejecting the map, which they dismissed as Chinese propaganda:
LOOK: Senators who personally watched the Gilas Pilipinas battle with China celebrate with the crowd. Senators Zubiri, Villanueva, Dela Rosa and Bong Go strike a pose wearing a shirt with the West PH Sea and a Philippine flag design. Senators Sonny Angara and Pia Cayetano also… pic.twitter.com/bV79apVmS9
— ABS-CBN News (@ABSCBNNews) September 2, 2023
The Chinese map not only infuriates Southeast Asian countries but also its BRICS allies, namely India and Russia. In the case of India, China has included two disputed regions, Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin, in the new map.
Although the two regions were included in previous maps, the timing of its release, just days after the BRICS summit, has embarrassed the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has expressed his eagerness to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 Summit.
— Satish Acharya (@satishacharya) September 1, 2023
Amid the Modi government's protests over the map, China urged India to stay calm as the country has always included the disputed areas in its map. In a further breakdown of relations, Xi Jinping will likely not attend the G20.
Another of China’s BRICS allies, Russia, also saw half of its Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island region marked as Chinese territories. But thus far, Putin has remained silent about the breach of the 2008 border agreement.
The new Chinese map also drew Nepal's attention. Kathmandu found that disputed regions Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura, which were incorporated into the official Nepali map in May 2020, are marked as India's territories on the Chinese map.
Meanwhile, many internet users protested about the new Chinese map with satirical maps:
— Angry Young Man (@AngryYoungManly) August 29, 2023