Bill Hayton+ Your Authors @bill_hayton Author of 'The Invention of China' (2020) South China Sea (Yale 2014) and Vietnam (Yale 2010). TV journalist. Assoc-Fellow @CHAsiaPacific. PhD (Cambridge) 2019 Apr. 20, 2020 2 min read + Your Authors

China establishes two districts to manage the South China Sea - a little thread to explain why this decision exposes the nonsense of China's territorial claims 

"Xisha District is set to administer the Xisha and Zhongsha islands" - the problem is that the 'Zhongsha islands' don't actually exist.

Here is a Chinese map showing the 'Zhongsha islands'

Now let's look at a real map of the South China Sea... The Zhongsha islands are, in fact, an area of shallow sea called, in English, the 'Macclesfield Bank'.

It's named after a British ship, the Macclesfield, which informed the European world of its existence in 1701. The French named it the 'Banc des Anglais' and - I'm told - that the original Chinese name was translation of that - literally 'Sands of the barbarians with the red hair

But that's a digression. The point is that there are no islands there. So why does China claim that there are?

It goes back to our old friend, the self-taught Geographer, Bai Meichu and his 1930s attempts to define the territory of China

In his 1936 'New Atlas of China’s Construction' 中華建設新 圖 Bai included this map of his dream of China's rightful boundaries...

But if you look closely at the South China Sea, you'll see the map is complete fiction...

Most of those islands don't actually exist - particularly the enormous ones in the middle of the sea

This is because Bai Meichu didn't understand the western maps he was copying and drew areas of shallow sea as islands. Here's one example - a map published by Stanfords in 1918 entitled 'Asiatic Archipelago'. You can see the Macclesfield Bank as an area of shallow sea...

At this point - because the Chinese government didn't claim the Spratly Islands at this time. The Macclesfield Bank was named the 'Nansha' - or 'Southern Sands' on Chinese maps

Here it is marked as such on Bai's map...

It was only when China decided to claim the Spratlys after the Second World War that the Macclesfield Bank was renamed 'Zhongsha' - 'central sands' and the name 'Nansha' was moved several hundred miles south to become the name for the Spratlys.

So the Zhongsha was completely invented. Nonetheless China is locked into the idiotic position of claiming a group of islands that don't actually exist. This tells us much of what we need to know about the haphazard way that its claim in the South China Sea was developed.

The problem is that since China is now locked into this idiotic position it might try to 'reverse engineer' international law and say that it is entitled to claim underwater features as territory. It would rather try to overthrow centuries of agreement than admit its mistake.

So the correct response is either to laugh at China for maintaining this ridiculous territorial claim or be concerned that China is attempting to rewrite international law and claim bits of underwater seabed hundreds of miles from its shores. The End (of this thread, at least).

What do you think @staatsrecht3 ?

You can follow @bill_hayton.


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