New Map Shows China’s True Expanse, General Says

AUGUST 21, 2014 3:24 AMAugust 21, 2014 3:51 pm

Crew members lined up as the Chinese Navy training vessel Zheng He arrived in Yangon, Myanmar, on May 23. A Chinese general said the military should be actively preparing to defend Chinese interests in case of war.Credit Lynn Bo Bo/European Pressphoto Agency

NewYorkTime – Two new maps being issued in China this summer are stirring debate across Asia. The first, an ambitious vertical map issued in June by the Hunan Map Publishing House, uses 10 dashes around the South China Sea to broadly delineate China’s claims to contested waters, shoals, rocks, reefs and islands there. The second is being distributed to units of the People’s Liberation Army. Military officials have said it is the army’s first major revision of a map in 30 years.

The military map has not been revealed to the public yet, but news reports in India have already questioned whether it will show that Himalayan territory contested by China and India is unequivocally part of China.

Watch this space for further discussion of that military map. For now, let’s take a look at one Chinese army general’s thoughts on the new civilian map, the vertical one.

On Aug. 14, Phoenix News published an interview with Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan about the map, in which the general expounded on China’s territorial integrity, how threats to the Ming and Qing dynasties came from the sea and the meddling of the United States in the region. In May, China alarmed Vietnam and other Asian nations and the United States when a Chinese state-owned oil company moved an exploration rig near the Vietnamese coastline and into waters off the disputed Paracel Islands.

In the Phoenix News interview, General Luo, a well-known commentator who advocates aggressive positions on foreign policy, said the new vertical map showed that China’s territory is much more expansive than what most Chinese understand it to be.

“Teachers teach us about China’s vast land — 9.6 million square kilometers of land,” he said, the equivalent of 3.7 million square miles. “But according to the new Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, this conception is inaccurate. We have a land mass of 9.6 million square kilometers, but we also have three million square kilometers of maritime territory.”

General Luo was referring to a convention passed by the United Nations in 1982 that set rules for territorial waters and exclusive economic zones in relation to land masses. Other nations do not agree that the convention supports the most expansive interpretation of Chinese claims to the South China Sea, whose surface area is 3.5 million square kilometers. In fact, they say the convention limits China’s claims. Last February, the Obama administration said that China must abide by the convention’s strict definitions of a nation’s waters, which the convention says can only be derived from land features. (Unlike China, the United States is not a signatory to the convention, and some officials and scholars say Washington should sign it if the United States wants to take the moral high ground on these issues.)

In congressional testimony in February, Daniel R. Russel, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs,rejected attempts by China to draw dashes on a map to make grand claims to the South China Sea, saying: “China’s lack of clarity with regard to its South China Sea claims has created uncertainty, insecurity and instability in the region.”

General Luo obviously thinks differently. In the Phoenix News interview, he said: “China’s territory used to be seen as a big rooster, but now that concept is not accurate because we have just released a new version of the map. In this map, we are now a torch. The torch includes maritime areas, so this should strengthen the overall awareness of our maritime territory.”

In the general’s view, China’s main land mass — the part that Chinese usually think of as a rooster — is the flame of the torch, while the South China Sea is the handle.

General Luo went on to say that historical factors had contributed to the region’s contested status and that there were now economic and energy-related issues in the region that were hard to resolve.

“The South China Sea coastline is the biggest problem we have,” he said. “We’re talking about a distance of 1,800 kilometers — 1,800 kilometers is a great addition to our security challenges,” General Luo said, referring to the equivalent of 1,100 miles.

“Even if my combat aircraft flew out there, they would have to turn around and quickly fly back to land before even having time to fight. Much of it is beyond our reach. We are now addressing this problem, which is the main thrust of my comments here — the question of how to prepare our forces.”

He ended the interview by saying that it is “entirely a misconception” by outsiders that China is passively adhering to the famous Deng Xiaoping mantra of “hide our capabilities and bide our time.” He said that if China was biding its time, it should at least be doing so in an active manner, with its military preparing to defend Chinese interests should war break out.

That view is consistent with what the general has advocated in the past. In an essay published in December 2012 in Global Times, a populist newspaper, he wrote that “the great revival of the Chinese nation includes the revival of the militaristic spirits worshiped by our ancestors, as well as the promotion of the revolutionary heroism of the Red Army.”

Becky Davis contributed research.

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