Why China’s 10-Dash Line Map Is a Clear Threat

Why China’s 10-Dash Line Map Is a Clear Threat

For years, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has employed a "nine-dash line" that marks its claims to the South China Sea. They now have upgraded that map claim to a 10-Dash line. 

Fans of pop culture can appreciate the humor of a guitar amplifier that goes "up to eleven" – and it is now an idiom that explains how some may misunderstand the operating principles of certain technology. However, the same implications may not be true as Beijing literally changed the number of dashes on maps of the South China Sea.

For years, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has employed a "nine-dash line" that marks its claims to the South China Sea, as well as to the Republic of China (ROC or "Taiwan").

The contested area includes the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, the Pratas Island, Vereker Banks, the Macclesfield Bank, and the Scarborough Shoal – roughly 90 percent of the South China Sea.

However, Beijing has since updated its maps with a "ten-dash line" but unlike the aforementioned amplifier that simply renumbered the highest volume, the new demarcation line extended China's territorial claims in the region east of Taiwan. The map, which was published in late August by China's Ministry of Natural Resources, includes huge tracts of the South China Sea, where islands, reefs, and maritime zones are contested by half a dozen countries.

10-Dash Line Map: Problematic Maps Indeed

Beijing said it was meant to fix "problematic maps" that misrepresented its territorial borders.

However, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) suggested the "ten-dash line" is unlikely to gain favor with China's neighbors – notably those nations whose exclusive economic zones (EEZ) overlap with areas now claimed by China.

"China's sovereignty claims are sweeping in nature and extend across the entirety of the sea space, islands, and sea features inside the nine-dash line in the South China Sea," noted ORF. "Beijing, crucially, is willing to employ force to enforce its supposed writ over its claimed waters. Over the years, China has constructed and progressively militarised artificial islands in the SCS. It now uses them as bases for the Chinese Coast Guard and militia operations in the region, regularly harassing fishing and coast guard vessels of other claimant states."

Origins of the Dash Lines

Though Beijing has embraced the use of the "dash lines" on its maps to denote its maritime sovereignty, the origins of the claims date back to a 1946 map that showed a U-shaped "eleven-dash" line that was first published by the ROC when it still maintained power on the mainland. That was based on the Potsdam Declarations, which acknowledged the ROC's claims to the various islands.

After the Communists under Mao Zedong took power at the end of the Chinese Civil War, the PRC removed two dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin amid warming ties with North Vietnam. However, it should be noted that Taipei still uses an eleven-dash map – even as it has been largely ignored by its neighbors.

In July 2016, an arbitral tribunal concluded that China's claim of historic rights over high seas has no lawful effect where it exceeds the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The claim was rejected due to the fact that China had not exercised exclusive control over these waters and resources.

Though more than 20 governments have called for the ruling to be respected, it has been rejected by eight governments, including both the PRC and the ROC.

More Than the South China Sea

Though much of the focus of the new map has been on the "ten dash line" and the South China Sea, it also claims territories of several of its neighbors – including small but notable chunks of both Russia and India.

In the former case, China sees the contested territory – including two river islands that have been legally shared between the two nations – as within its easternmost borders. This could be a step backward in Sino-Russian relations, as it was only in 2005, after centuries of border disputes, that Beijing and Moscow ratified the existing border. It is unlikely the Kremlin will be happy with China's latest claims.

As for the border with India, China now claims parts of Arunachal Pradesh at the eastern end of the 2,100-mile disputed border commonly known as the line of actual control. Beijing considers the region part of Tibet and announced new Chinese place names there in April, while the new map also includes Aksai Chin in the west, controlled by China but claimed by India.

"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," Arindam Bagchi, a spokesperson for India's External Affairs Ministry, said in response to the map.

"We reject these claims as they have no basis. Such steps by the Chinese side only complicate the resolution of the boundary question," Bagchi added.

Other Reactions From Not-so-Happy Neighbors

The Philippines became the latest nation to object to the new Chinese international map – joining Malaysia and India in releasing strongly worded statements that accuse Beijing of making claims on their respective territory.

Manila quickly rejected the map due to China's inclusion of the line as it forms a "U shape" that puts the entire South China Sea as part of China's territory. That overlaps with the EZZ of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Indonesia. In the case of the Philippines, a 2016 Arbitral Award invalidated China's expansive claims in the South China Sea. The arbitral tribunal largely ruled in favor of Manila in areas of its EEZ and continental shelf that are being claimed by Beijing, CNN Philippines had previously reported.

It Impacted Barbie – Yes, Barbie

Even as the territorial disputes of the South China Sea continue, it had an unlikely casualty this past summer – namely Mattel's "Barbie," or more accurately the hit film. In July Vietnam banned the live-action film from being shown in the country after it was reported that a scene displayed the nine-dash line.

The Philippines also asked Warner Bros., the film's distributor, to blur the lines to avoid "misinterpretation."

Author Experience and Expertise

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

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