Beijing has not only attempted to change facts on the ground in the South China Sea but is also seeking to gradually change the world's mind regarding its claims in the region, a Washington-based think tank has said.
Nguyen Thuy Anh, who is a research fellow at the East Sea Institute of Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, has said in a report published in Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative that the nine-dash line is a representation of China's expansive claims in the South China Sea. The line itself is a collection of arbitrary dashes or dots without specific coordinates. China has not given any official explanations regarding its precise delimitation or legal origin.
"China's claim has been openly rejected by Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the United States, and has been criticized by numerous international scholars. More importantly, the claim to historic waters within the line was rejected by the arbitral award of the South China Sea tribunal in July 2016. But China has disregarded the ruling and insists on the nine-dash line claim," Anh said in the report.
As per the report, China has aimed to create "a narrative in the popular consciousness" that the nine-dash line is part of China's administrative territory. In pursuit of this goal, China uses any means it can to promote the visibility of the nine-dash line, displaying it on passports, maps, exported globes, movies, books, online games, clothing, tourist leaflets, booklets, television shows, and more.
In October 2019, a nine-dash map was visible in "Abominable," an animated family movie jointly produced by China-based Pearl Studio and America's DreamWorks Animation.
In 2018, a group of Chinese tourists wearing T-shirts with a nine-dash line drawing arrived in Vietnam. Earlier, in 2015, China watchers unveiled Google Maps images that highlighted the nine-dash line.
Before 2009, the nine-dash line appeared in scientific articles only rarely. However, the number of articles illustrated with the line has drastically and steadily increased since 2010.
A similar trend continues int 2020, covering a wide range of hard-science disciplines including climate change, hydrography, archaeology, agriculture, bio-energy, environment, waste management, and public health, the report said.
The insertion of the nine-dash line in scientific prints is not accidental. The majority of articles having the nine-dash line appear to have been authored or co-authored by Chinese scholars, it said further.
"Most of the articles presented the research outcomes of projects funded by Chinese government agencies. And Chinese scholars themselves are not able to explain the relation between the nine-dash line illustrations and the arguments in the articles," Anh said.
When asked, one Chinese author admitted that the insertion of the nine-dash line was a Chinese government requirement, she added.
One of the reasons why such irrelevant figures have been so worthy for China may be that it has leveraged its market power to force publishers, educational institutions, and think-tanks to self-censor and accommodate Beijing's rules on publication. The Asian giant has also been able to force publication firms to remove content which it regarded as harmful to Chinese interests.
Though having no impact on the legal nature of the claim, the widespread publication of such maps could prompt misperceptions among scientists, researchers, or students who are readers of these journals but are not familiar with the issue, as per the report.
"More dangerously, at some point policymakers in Beijing may mistake such publications as some form of popular recognition of its erroneous claim. Such a misconception could lead to a serious miscalculation," Anh added.