S. China Sea Becomes Part of China on Beijing's New "Standard Map"

South China Sea
China's nine dashes surround most of the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel Islands (China Ministry of Natural Resources)

Published Sep 1, 2023 3:17 AM by The Maritime Executive

China's Ministry of Natural Resources has released its updated "China Standard Map," and its new contours are creating a stir among neighbors in the South China Sea. 

Under its "nine-dash line" policy, China claims virtually all of the South China Sea as its own, including large swathes of the EEZs of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. This historically-based claim is unique to China, and in 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that it is not consistent with international law. China has ignored the ruling. 

The "nine-dash line" has always been ambiguous, with large undefined gaps between the broad dashes. Some political observers in the Philippines have dismissed the updated 2023 edition as another propaganda device or a mere annoyance. But this year's map is different, according to retired Philippine Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio. He told Philippine media that China is now describing these dashes as an "international border" in the South China Sea.

“Claiming the high seas, and exclusive economic zones of other coastal states, in the South China Sea as China's national territory is not routine,” he told CNN Philippines.

The Philippines has lodged a formal complaint about the unilateral map with the Chinese embassy in Manila. 

The 2023 China Standard Map, with nine-dash line and new tenth dash off Taiwan (Ministry of Natural Resources)

Original chart of the nine-dash line concept, created by the pre-PRC Republic of China in 1947 (ROC)

The Malaysian government has also formally protested the new 2023 map, as the dashes overlap Malaysia's EEZ off the west coast of Borneo. The Chinese dashes come closer to the Malaysian state of Sarawak than to any other mainland shore. “Malaysia does not recognize China’s claims in the South China Sea as outlined in the ‘2023 edition of the standard map of China’ which extends into Malaysian maritime area,” Malaysia's foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday. “The map has no binding effect on Malaysia.”

Vietnam also disagrees with China's mapping of Vietnamese waters. In a statement, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Pham Thu Hang said that Vietnam "resolutely rejects any claims in the East Sea by China that are based on the dashed line."

China has also added a tenth dash to surround the east side of Taiwan, expanding the "nine-dash line" northwards to embrace the island. The government in Taipei disagrees.

"No matter how the Chinese government twists its position on Taiwan's sovereignty, it cannot change the objective fact of our country's existence," Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesman Jeff Liu said Thursday. 

India is also displeased with China's "standard map." The new map incorporates parts of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh within the official borders of China. "“We have today lodged a strong protest through diplomatic channels with the Chinese side on the so-called 2023 ‘standard map’ of China that lays claim to India’s territory," said a spokesperson for the Indian Foreign Ministry. "We reject these claims as they have no basis."