China seeks advantages in disputes as it renames locations across Asia

China is renaming disputed locations in Asia to bolster its territorial claims and build evidence to support those claims in case any sovereignty disagreements land in court, experts say, VOA reported.

Beijing has used new names and other map coding to back its claims in the South China Sea, East China Sea and, most recently, parts of the mountains that it contests with India, the report said.

Analysts told VOA they believe the Chinese leaders renamed the 15 places to remind their own citizens of their claims while keeping up pressure on their opponents in disputes around Asia, especially in preparation for any International Court of Justice or world arbitration court hearings, the report said.

“I think the Chinese view is that part of narrative warfare, part of shaping a narrative about what a conflict is about, is wrong-footing or putting your adversary or rival claimant or disputant in a position where they are disadvantaged, and China holds an advantage,” said Scott Harold, Washington-based senior political scientist with RAND Corporation research group.

China also uses military build-ups and economic ties to advance its disputed sovereignty claims. Over the past decade, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and India have pushed back. In 2016, Manila won a world court case against Beijing over South China Sea claims.

Other Asian countries have renamed disputed features as well, including Manila calling the South China Sea the “West Philippine Sea”. China stands out for its efforts since 2010 to expand its maritime reach and alarming its neighbours as well as their Western allies. Sino-Indian border tension shot up in 2017, the report said.

Alan Chong, associate professor at the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies says Chinese mapmakers pick names that are consistent with China’s historic role in a region it is targeting, he said. Beijing has said, for example, that its fishing boats sailed the South China Sea some 2000 years ago, and thus has named the sea’s tiny islets to reflect that history, as per the report.

Beijing has renamed the two major archipelagos of the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea despite rival claims by several Southeast Asian countries.

In the East China Sea, Beijing renamed the uninhabited, Japanese-held Senkaku Islands as “Diaoyu” after the mid-1950s, Harold said. Beijing disputes the islands with Tokyo and Taipei.

Eventually China can use the names to seek advantage in territorial disputes, said Alexander Vuving, professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, in Hawaii, the report added.

“In the legal argument, you have to substantiate that you administer a place and part of that is, you name it,” he said, VOA reported.

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