Lies, Damn Lies and Surveys

If its the winners who get to write history, as the old saw has it, then why not try the same preemptively with geography?

China’s new state-run online map service, Mapworld, created by the State Bureau for Surveying and Mapping, has drawn protests from Vietnam for showing the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea as Chinese though Vietnam says they lie within its own territorial waters. “The act by China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping seriously violates Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa [Paracels] and Truong Sa [Sprately] archipelagos, its sovereign right and national jurisdiction right over the continental shelf and the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone,” a Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. This is the first protest by a foreign government about Mapworld that we have seen.

As the snapshot (above) shows the map depicts with a dashed line the exclusive economic zone China has formally claimed since last year in a note submitted in response to the UN’s effort to sort out the various territorial claims over the resources-rich South China Sea. It represents a much larger area than that that would be contained by territorial boundaries dictated by the current UN convention on the law of the sea.

Mapworld has already drawn attention for showing sensitive areas, from the space centre at Jiuquan and military sites across the country to Taiwan, in much less detail than those published by Google. China has been tightening up on online mapping services — requiring them to be licenced and hosted in China — on national security grounds. When Mapworld was launched last month, Min Yiren, a deputy director of the Surveying and Mapping Bureau, was quoted by the FT as saying:

“There is a top secret version, a government version and a public version of the [online mapping services] platform.”

Perhaps they need a version for foreign governments, too.

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Filed under China-Southeast Asia, Politics & Society

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