Mapping Boarder Disputes
Clashes at sea. Disputed borders. It is not the usual stuff of science. But researchers and scientific journals are being pulled into long-simmering border disputes between China and its neighbours. Confrontations involving research vessels are raising tensions in the region, while the Chinese government is being accused of using its scientists’ publications to promote the country’s territorial claims…
The battle is… spilling over to the pages of scientific journals. Critics say that Chinese researchers are trying to make their country’s possession of the South China Sea a fait accompli by routinely using maps that show its extended marine boundaries. For example, a 2010 review of the impacts of climate change on water resources and agriculture in China, published in Nature, included a map with an inserted area that implied that most of the South China Sea was part of China.
Last month, in an online posting that was also sent to Nature and other journals, 57 Vietnamese scientists, engineers and other professionals living around the world complained about the use of such maps. The letter laments the Chinese government’s use of “‘back door’ tactics”, and argues that it is “using your magazine/journal as a means to legitimize such [a] one-sided and biased map”. A map that appeared in a review of Chinese demography published in Science provoked similar criticism. Science responded with an Editor’s Note stating that the journal “does not have a position with regard to jurisdictional claims” but that it is “reviewing our map acceptance procedures to ensure that in the future Science does not appear to endorse or take a position on territorial/jurisdictional disputes”.
See also, Uncharted Territory.
Image: Disputed territory in the South China Sea. Source UNCLOS/CIA via Nature.