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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.