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Sovereignty in the Map
2016-05-12 00:01

Map, especially territorial map, displays a nation's overall scope directly. For the general public, map is the outset of their territorial awareness, and the rolling borderline seems to make them feel the motherland's vast land, broad territorial sea and airspace more deeply. The most important political information contained in map is boundary. Territorial map is of great significance because it reflects a nation's sovereign will and its political and diplomatic stance in the international community.

Map plays an irreplaceable role in determining a nation's land or maritime boundary because as historical evidence, it not only shows the territorial boundary of relevant stakeholders in specific historical periods, but also attests to and verifies other evidences. Therefore, all countries, almost without exception, use map as important evidence to endorse their assertions.

In China's efforts to safeguard its sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, map has played a critical role in that it has not only bolstered the texts and descriptions about South China Sea islands recorded in historical documents, but also directly and definitely displays the islands and reefs in that region that were discovered by ancient Chinese people. A lot of high-quality maps about the South China Sea islands were produced in the Ming and Qing dynasties. In Zheng He's Navigational Map produced in the early 13th century, three archipelagoes - Shitang, Shitangyu of Wansheng (State) and Shixing Shitang - were marked in the South China Sea. As the explicit demonstration of national will, official administrative maps such as Comprehensive Map of Qing Dynasty and Provincial Maps of Qing Dynasty were historical evidence that prove China's long-term exercise of sovereign jurisdiction over the South China Sea islands. Until 1970, as showed in the Political Map of the Republic of the Philippines published in Manila, the Philippines, which is the most clamorous claimant of the South China Sea today, hadn't attempted to deny China's sovereignty over the South China Sea islands .

As a matter of fact, China's sovereignty over South China Sea islands was generally recognized by other countries in the world a long time ago as indicated by the atlas published by countries such as Britain, France, Japan and the U.S. For example, Katsuo Okazaki, Japanese foreign minister in 1952, signed and recommended the Standard World Atlas, which indicated the South China Sea islands as Chinese territory. Similar examples include the World Atlas published by West Germany in 1954, 1961 and 1970, World Atlas published by the Soviet Union in 1954-1967 and by Romania in 1957, Oxford Australia Atlas, Philip Atlas and Britannica Atlas published by Britain in 1957 and 1958, Huck World Atlas published by East Germany in 1968, Daily Telegraph World Atlas published by Britain in 1968 and Atlas of China published by Japan's Heibonsha in 1973. In the Larousse World Political and Economic Atlas published by France in 1956, page 13B was marked with "Dongsha Islands (Pratas Islands) (China)", "Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands) (China)" and "Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) (China)", indicating they all belong to China. The General World Map published by French National Geographic Institute in 1968 and Larousse Modern Atlas published in Paris in 1969 and their legend descriptions all clearly indicate that the Nansha Islands belong to China. Even Vietnam that has occupied China's South China Sea islands once admitted that they were part of Chinese territory. The World Map developed by the General Staff of Vietnam People's Armed Forces in 1960, the Vietnam Atlas and World Atlas published by Vietnam National Surveying and Mapping Bureau in 1964 and 1972 respectively all marked South China Sea islands as Chinese territory.

In face of these indisputable facts, those South China Sea claimants that have occupied Chinese islands and reefs could no longer keep calm. The Philippine government paid a lot of money for a map drawn by a Spanish missionary in 1734, and claimed that Huangyan Island was part of Philippine territory 300 years ago because it was marked as “Panacot” on that map. The evidentiary force of this privately drawn map is questionable, not to mention its verity and accuracy. Map is not the guarantee for a nation to obtain territorial sovereignty. In terms of the evidentiary value of maps in territorial disputes, such a private map cannot be mentioned in the same breath as official maps that reflect national will. In international practices of territorial demarcation, maps from parties of opposite interests, third parties and neutral organizations usually have a higher evidentiary value. As an integral part of boundary treaty, map is equivalent to law and is irrefutable in determining the ownership of territorial sovereignty because it fully demonstrates the will of concerned parties. Therefore, the evidentiary force of map has to be carefully differentiated and properly used, otherwise a nation would make a laughingstock of itself if it "passes off fish eyes for pearls" like the Philippine government did.

The South China Sea islands are "ancestral properties" that have been passed down by the Chinese nation from generation to generation. The maps that show China's history of exploring, discovering, developing and managing the South China Sea are "land deeds" in the hands of Chinese people and a solid foundation for China to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in that region.

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