Hey, if we put this flag here, there's going to be no room for my house!
Hey, if we put this flag here, there’s going to be no room for my villa!

Whatever your position on what belongs to who in the South China Sea dispute (“East Sea” in Vietnamese), you gotta give credit to China for their creative efforts in pushing their claim to the whole sea. Well, in their defense, not the whole thing, just around 80%.

As you can see in the image, these are some pretty ambitious claims by China. At some points the line is 450 km from the mainland.

China’s territorial claims have been infamously demarcated by what is referred to as the “Nine-Dotted Line” –which the Vietnamese call Đường lưỡi bò, “ox’s tongue line.”

I don’t want to go too deep into the history books on China’s claim, but some of it stems from the early 15th-century voyages of Chinese admiral Zheng He, the Muslim eunuch who, from 1405-1433, led several voyages as far as Africa’s Somali coast to highlight China’s status as super bad ass –the common term used before “super power.”

Had the new emperor not decided to re-focus resources on defending the northern borders and had be been able to resist paranoia about Chinese masses attaining too much knowledge, it is likely that Zheng He would have gone around the Horn of Africa before Vasca de Gama did in 1497 and we might all be speaking Chinese.

The Chinese “Treasure Ships” that Zheng He commanded dwarfed anything Europe had to offer and their support ships, which numbered in the hundreds, would have easily defeated a Spanish or Portuguese fleet had they been foolish enough to confront them.

There are scholarly disputes as to whether the Treasure Ships were huge or “very big”, but suffice it to say, China ruled the seas and the Europeans were probably lucky their less advanced technology hadn’t gotten them around the horn of Africa until the end of the century.

The Chinese "Treasure Ships" dwarfed anything Europe had to offer. There are scholarly disputes as to whether they were huge or "very big", suffice it to say, China ruled the seas.

The Chinese “Treasure Ships” dwarfed anything Europe had to offer. There are scholarly disputes as to whether they were huge or “very big”, suffice it to say, China ruled the seas.

Ok, I went too deep, but it’s a great story and you should check it out.

The Subtle Approach

At any rate, aside of bullying its neighbors on the high seas these days with proxy fisherman, China is employing subtle approaches to getting the Nine-Dotted Line out there in the public eye.

There was the recent news of printing the lines in Chinese passports –which the Vietnamese and the Philippines refuse to stamp and in response are instead issuing visas on a separate piece of paper.

The passports were blatant, but China’s other tacts are a growing more and more nuanced. The Vietnamese media reported recently that Air China, the flagship carrier for the ROC, now shows the Nine-Dotted Line on the route map featured in their inflight magazine.

Not the greatest image, yet all that is available with the breaking news. You can see the Nine-Dotted Line demarcated on the Air China flight route.

Not the greatest image, but you can see where the Nine Dotted Line is on those route line maps that keep me occupied in my seat for hours.

And if that weren’t enough, Chinese-made inflatable globes manufactured for resellers around the globe have shown up in Australia and the Philippines with the Nine-Dotted Line printed on them.

Beach Ball Nine Dotted Line China

China, sneaking in the Nine-Dotted Line wherever they can. Even without customer’s knowing it.

Say what you will about Chinese government’s methods, but one things is beyond dispute: when they put their mind to something, they give it their all.