Chinese customs seize thousands of maps over missing South China Sea 'nine-dash line'

Jack Lau, South China Morning Post

Posted at Aug 15 2022 07:56 AM

South China Sea and the 9-dash line. Center for Strategic and International Studies
South China Sea and the 9-dash line. Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • A total of 23,500 ‘problematic’ maps seized by customs officials in the eastern city of Ningbo
  • Offending maps also fail to include Beijing’s island claims in the East and South China seas, and lack a vetting number, officials reveal

Customs officials in China's eastern Zhejiang province have seized thousands of maps intended for export because the national borders represented did not conform to Chinese territorial claims in the South China and East China seas.

Ningbo city customs authorities said the two batches of " problematic maps", numbering 23,500 in all, omitted the nine-dash line covering Beijing's vast claims in the South China Sea that extend as far as 2,000km (1,200 miles) from the Chinese mainland.

The maps also failed to include contested island chains claimed by China, such as the Spratlys an ]]>

For years, Beijing has cracked down on "problematic maps" that it deems to "endanger sovereignty, national reunification, territorial integrity, national security and interests". Omitting disputed territories and the nine-dash line are typical characteristics of problematic maps, according to China's natural resources ministry, the state map regulator.

The nine-dash line was ruled unlawful under international law by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in a 2016 ruling, which Beijing refused to take part in and has refused to recognise.

China has remained firm about how its territorial claims are presented, even by private companies headquartered outside the mainland.

In 2018, American clothing retailer Gap apologised to Beijing for selling T-shirts adorned with a Chinese map without Taiwan and its claimed South China Sea islands. Beijing also set a deadline for foreign airlines to change their references to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau so that they are not represented as independent countries.

Ningbo customs also said the maps seized did not go through vetting and lacked a map vetting number required under Chinese law.

Chinese mapping laws require maps, and products showing a map, to go through vetting by the Ministry of Natural Resources during export. Maps intended to be published or shown outside mainland China also need to be vetted.

A photo released by the customs bureau showed two officers examining what appeared to be a gaming mouse mat, with a highly stylised world map featuring time zones printed on it.

An identical-looking rubber mat could be found on AliExpress, a global retail platform operated by Alibaba Group Holding, which also owns the South China Morning Post. The product did not have the nine-dash line printed on it.

Customs in Chongqing in southwestern China also recently seized stylised world maps for having "violated the one-China principle", referring to Beijing's position that there is but one China under the sole lawful government in Beijing and self-governed Taiwan is a part of that China.

Authorities said the maps harmed national sovereignty and territorial integrity with their "incorrect" labels for Taiwan and the Diaoyu Islands.

The natural resources department of China's southern Guangdong province has also issued an advisory calling for stricter regulation of "problematic maps", and stronger inspection of book stores, exhibitions and markets as well as websites for such maps.

"We have to resolutely crack down on, and seriously inspect and punish, operators of mapping products that draw Chinese map incorrectly, leak state secrets, endanger national sovereignty, security and (cause) damage to national interests," the advisory said.

Maps are considered sensitive in China for their potential to reveal information that could threaten national security. Mapping and surveying using GPS is illegal without official authorisation.

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