The Shanghaiist reports on illegal maps in China:

Among the many things one can do to make China “lose face” in the international eye:

1. Distribute toxic playthings to small children the world around
2. Kidnap and enslave hundreds of your countrymen and their children and force them to work in subhuman conditions
3. Crop the edges off a map

All three offensives have been committed in the last year, and all three were met with swift punishment. Granted, the map offenders have it a little easier than Zheng Xiaoyu (former director of the State Food and Drug Administration who will be executed for his role in the this year’s tainted export debacle).

Six hotel chains have been found in violation of map standards regulated by the Shanghai’s Mapping and Survey Management Office for failing to show the entirety of China — in all its island-speckled, Taiwan-including glory — on maps purporting to depict the nation. And by “purporting to depict the nation,” we mean anything that is not clearly labeled to explain what it lacks. The Shanghai Daily gives on example:

What’s interesting in these maps is what’s not there. For example, China’s claims to a whole Indian state, as well as the disputed areas that straddle the India-China frontier.

In fact, despite the 1996 agreement, several incidents of Chinese intrusions at Asaphi La and elsewhere in Arunachal Pradesh have been periodically reported in the press and discussed in the Indian Parliament. While no violent incident has taken place in the recent past, there have been occasions when Indian and Chinese patrols have met face-to-face in areas like the two “fish-tail” shaped protrusions in the north-east corner of Arunachal Pradesh. Such meetings have an element of tension and despite the best operating procedures, the possibility of an armed clash can never be ruled out.

In the western sector in Ladakh, the LAC is even more ambiguous as the lack of easily recognizable terrain features on the Aksai Chin makes it difficult to accurately co-relate ground and map. Both sides habitually send patrols up to the point where they assume the LAC runs. These patrols leave tell-tale signs behind in the form of burjis (piles of stones), biscuit and cigarette packets and other similar markers in a sort of primitive ritual to lay stake to territory and assert their claim.

In this light, the Chinese government’s unwillingness to exchange maps showing the alignment of the LAC in western and eastern sectors, while at the same time talking of lofty guiding principles and parameters to resolve the territorial and boundary dispute, is neither understandable or condonable.

It can only be classified as another attempt to put off resolution of the dispute “for future generations to resolve”, as Deng Xiao Ping had reportedly told Rajiv Gandhi in 1988.

The military gap between Indian and China is growing steadily. It would not be far-fetched to assume that China’s strategy is to resolve the dispute when it is in a much stronger position in terms of comprehensive national strength so as to dictate terms at best, and maintain the status quo at worst.

China has settled some of its border disputes, but apparently they sometimes come unstuck:

The Qing emperor Kangxi (1662-1723) forced Korea, which at the time was a vassal state of China, to accept that the border separating the two countries should pass through the Paektusan peak. The region in which the volcano is situated is regarded as the cradle of the Manchu people. The squabble over Mount Paektu resurfaced under King Kojong (1864-1907), from the Korean Yi dynasty, but the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula put an end to any possibility of compromise.

The zone surrounding the volcano is inhospitable and uninhabited, and neither the Koreans nor the Chinese have tried to develop the region economically. The territory claimed by Pyongyang concerns 33 square kilometres around the Paektusan summit. In the case of Lake Chongji, the 1963 agreement established that three-fifths would be under North Korea’s control with the remaining two-fifths belonging to China.

In 1965, the standoff between China and the Soviet Union put North Korea in a very tight situation. Pyongyang needed the help of both countries: owing its existence to the former and its survival to the latter. Kim Il-Sung’s criticism of any deviation in the international communist movement was very badly received by Peking and tensions mounted between Kim and Mao. In order to punish the North Korean regime for its lack of support, China is thought to have demanded that the 160 square kilometres around Paektusan be conceded to it as compensation for the economic and military aid provided by Peking during the Korean War (1950-53)6. China abandoned its claim in November 1970 in order to improve relations with Pyongyang7. Between March 1968 and March 1969, various military skirmishes took place in the Paektusan region between the North Korean and Chinese armed forces. These were consequences of the tensions caused by the Cultural Revolution and the savage criticisms made of Kim Il-Sung by the Red Guards. During these years of unrest, Peking closed its border with its neighbour.

For the Koreans, Mount Paektu is entwined with their earliest history. According to legend, the God Hwanung (“the king come from the sky”) landed on the volcano to couple with a woman who then conceived a son, Tangun (“the king of the birch-tree”), who in 2333 B.C. founded the kingdom of Choson, regarded as being the first Korean state.

Furthermore, for the communist authorities of North Korea, Mount Paektu is the “sacred mountain of the revolution”, the place of the most important guerrilla exploits in the 1930s under the command of Kim Il-Sung. After Mangyongdae, the village in which Kim was born, the volcano is without doubt the most venerated place in the DPRK. One of the best-known photographs of the former leader shows him at the summit of Paektusan contemplating Lake Chongji. This is proof of the North Korean desire to affirm its pre-eminence over this territory. An image of Mount Paektu also decorates the main fac,ade of the Korean Museum of the Revolution in Pyongyang, an enormous building that was constructed to the glory of the Great Leader’s revolutionary past.

The volcano’s importance for the regime is such that North Korean propaganda affirms that Kim Jong-Il was born in a guerrilla camp on the Korean face of Mount Paektusan in February 1942. In actual fact, the present North Korean leader was born in the military camp of Vyatsk, near the city of Khabarovsk in the Russian Far-East, where his father was an officer in the Red Army. The goal of this manipulation is clear: to situate the birth of the communist dictator on Korean soil and in a symbolic place that is representative of the consciousness of the Korean people8. The DPRK’s leaders even invented the exact spot of his birth that has since become a place of worship and pilgrimage.

To justify its control over a part of Paektusan, Peking talks about compensation for its military support of North Korea during the 1950-53 conflict. For some time now Peking has been constantly referring to its concern for the protection of the region’s natural environment and for the development of the volcano as a tourist attraction10. China has a final argument to justify its control over Paektusan, which is that while the volcano may be sacred for Koreans, it is also sacred for Manchus11. Hiding behind the defence of the interests of Manchus, Peking rules out any negotiations that could lead to territorial loss in the area.

One success of Chinese propaganda on the Taiwan issue is that Taiwan is usually viewed separately from these other disputes. Yet it is linked to them by the drive of the current leadership to re-occupy, to the extent possible, the old Qing dynasty borders. Taiwan should be placed in the context of this larger drive of China for territorial expansion. And of course, against the modern race for resources in the South China Sea. Consider the Natunas, a decade ago. From this 1996 article in the IHT:

China told Indonesia last year that it had no claim to the Natunas but failed to give such an assurance for the gas field, which is situated 225 kilometers northeast of the main island in the Natuna group. Official Chinese maps show the gas field falling well within a line marking China’s maritime jurisdiction.


The Indonesian military spokesman said that the armed forces had “no intention of provoking other countries by holding the joint exercise” from Sept. 2 to 18. But analysts said that Jakarta was increasingly concerned about Beijing’s intentions in the South China Sea.

Frequently China’s grab of Taiwan is presented as the “final piece of the puzzle.” The reality is that it is only one of the first steps.