Old map collections shed new light on South China Sea dispute

Maps discovered at Yale University are posing a new challenge to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries the maps show that neither Spratly nor Paracel islands, both claimed by Vietnam, belonged to China, Vietnamese Tuoi Tree News reported on Sunday.

According to the news site, Vietnamese historian Dr. Tran Duc Anh Son discovered the maps while he was visiting the American Yale University.

The maps reportedly illustrated which territories belonged to the Chinese kingdom during the rule of the Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796), from mainland China to islands and surrounding waters.

The maps did not recognize Nansha Islands or Xisha Islands, called Truong Sa and Hoang Sa by Vietnam, as Chinese territory. Furthermore, the southernmost Chinese territory, as illustrated in the maps, was the Hainan island.

“It is observable that Chinese maps in official atlases released during the Qing dynasty and the Republic of China period all specified that the southernmost point of China is Hainan Island”, Tuoi Tree News cited Son saying.

Beijing’s South China Sea claims and the militarization of some of the artificially constructed islands in the region have been a cause of tension in the region. The U.S. Navy started performing so-called freedom of navigation operations in the disputed areas to challenge excessive maritime claims of the nations involved.

These operations have sparked outrage with the official Beijing whose officials, on numerous occasions, reiterated that China would not accept any international ruling on the issue including the South China Sea arbitration case brought before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague by the Philippines.