China’s Map Offensive: Several Nations, Including India, Angry
Major General S B Asthana
NEW DELHI – The 2023 edition of the standard map of China, released by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Peoples Republic of China, is neither the first attempt to illegally document unilateral claims on sovereign territories of other countries nor the last one.
It has been published by design to documentarily justify its illegal claims by launching a cartographic offensive. It forms part of ‘Legal Warfare’ as a component of the ‘Three Warfare Strategy’ as an attempt to produce legal justification for its illegal claims.
The Philippines is angry because of the inclusion of a dashed line around contested areas of the South China Sea that an international tribunal had ruled in 2016 in favor of Manila. Kathmandu is upset because it does not show the Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura areas as part of Nepali territory.
“Malaysia does not recognize China’s claims in the South China Sea which extends into the Malaysian maritime area,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement. The map depicts Taiwan and the entire South China Sea as Chinese areas making Taipei predictably angry.
The 2023 edition of the standard map of China released on August 28 illegally shows Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin in Chinese territory, besides showing the South China Sea and Taiwan too as Chinese territory.
India has already launched diplomatic protest and it’s fair to assume that such an act must have caused discomfort amongst other claimants of the South China Sea, Taiwan, and other users of the South China Sea too. The other part of this cartographic aggression is giving Chinese names to places in other countries, where it extends its illegal claims. Although it is quite certain that such an act, in isolation, does not change anything on the ground, the intention, timing, and strategy behind such repeated acts are worth an analysis.
Why New Map Now?
The map was released ten days prior to the G20 Summit. China anticipates that the intention of many countries in G20 is to criticize aggression and encroachments by large countries be it Russian kinetic operation in Ukraine or China’s incremental encroachment in the South China Sea, East China Sea, or Taiwanese air and maritime space. The illegal maps released by China so far (including the current one) form the basis to build the background for a ‘legal war’ to claim that all its activities are purely defensive to protect its own sovereign territory. That would be China’s stance in G20 or any possible bilateral between China and India if it happens!
It is also an attempt to put the opposite side on the defensive on the negotiation table by adopting a maximal position in the beginning. The conversation between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the BRICS Summit 2023 reported by Chinese media stated, “agreed to maintain the momentum of dialogue and negotiations through military and diplomatic channels”, indicating no commitment of disengagement.
The map release therefore is a smart move to score a point to derail negotiations or disengagement. A subtle attempt to divert attention of Chinese people from economic downslide by such gimmicks can’t be ruled out.
Chinese Strategy of Three Warfare
The above example of legal warfare is part of ‘Chinese Strategy of Three Warfare’. China introduced this strategy comprising of the concepts of public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare, when it revised the “Political Work Guidelines of the People’s Liberation Army” in 2003. The Three Warfare Strategy’s objective is to win by suppressing the enemy’s desire to fight or, in Sun Tzu’s words, ‘winning without fighting’, Through deceit, diplomatic pressure, information operations involving rumors, false narratives, and harassment, it is intended to influence the decision-making of the adversary.
Illegal maps like the one shown above give reality to psychological warfare and propaganda, which are frequently employed to weaken the resolve of the enemy and secure the support of the home population to wage a protracted war.
Impact on China-India Border
Notwithstanding the optics of the ‘Modi – Xi conversation’ at BRICS Summit 2023, this illegal map further increases the trust deficit between the two countries, and no change in ground position is anticipated.
The political intention of China is to continue the standoff, put in a façade of talking with no results, hoping that the existing positions become new normal with the passage of time, even if India continues to say “India-China relations cannot be normal unless the border situation is”.
India on the other hand has learnt not to believe China and will continue to firmly defend its position on borders and its territorial integrity. Both sides will have to bear the burden of additional deployment until India can generate some more leverage in multi-dimensional powerplay along with other strategic partners. Unless the political cost of not resolving border tension becomes more than resolving it, for China, the possibility of normal relations is remote. (Asthana is an international strategic and military analyst. IANS)