Cartographic War: China’s Worst Diplomatic Blunder Comes At Most Inopportune Time For Xi Jinping

The “2023 Edition of the Standard Map of China” released by the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on August 28 would have made military general and philosopher Sun Tzu proud. Still, it has come at the worst time for President Xi Jinping.

In the CCP playbook, this would have been an application of the famous aphorism “Besiege Wei to rescue Zao,” which means that when the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, attack something they cherish.

Unfortunately for Communist China, the trick is too old and has been applied too many times by the CCP to have any desired effect. The timing of this pronouncement needs some analysis to understand the real reasons behind this action.

Another question that needs answering is what is the real motive of CCP and who is the target audience for these “cartographic calisthenics.”

China’s Economic Woes

China’s post-COVID economy has been in the doldrums for some time now. The constant manipulation of numbers by the CCP could only delay the inevitable, but the actual state of affairs finally surfaced with the Chinese economy entering into deflation.

The cracks in the economy, which the CCP has been so assiduously hiding, have finally started showing. The downward spiral in the economic situation is only gaining steam.

The second most significant real estate firm in China, Evergrande, lost a further 14 percent at the beginning of trading on August 27. It lost almost 99 percent of its market value in the last three years.

If indicators are to be believed, a few Chinese state-owned real estate majors stare at bankruptcy today.

The extensive devastation caused by floods in the northern provinces due to the CCP’s inept policies has hit the common Chinese hard, and there are widespread food shortages.

India’s Growing Global Stature

While this remains the internal situation, the external factors and developments must also be considered. From CCP’s perspective, India has been steadily gaining in stature. The recently concluded BRICS summit in South Africa can be a starting point.

CCP’s efforts at including its beleaguered ally, Pakistan, in BRICS have come to naught. China’s hopes of pushing the Yuan as BRICS currency to protect its tanking economy have also been put to rest with increasing acceptance of local currency trade.

Indian UPI’s concurrent emergence and increasing acceptance have worsened matters for the CCP. The resounding success of Chandrayaan-3, India’s third Moon mission, has added substantially to India’s overall position and prestige in the global order.

India’s G20 Presidency and its commitment to championing the causes of the Global South are imbued with credibility and are thus receiving increasing support from the Global South itself.

The forthcoming G20 Summit and the widespread participation expected from global leaders is perhaps the biggest thorn in the side of the CCP.

China’s Imagined One Silver Bullet

Having done its version of an internal and external scan of the situation, the CCP has now fallen back upon its own ‘trusted’ playbook of ‘cartographic calisthenics.’

File Image: Modi-Xi Jinping

By showing the entire territory of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as its territory, the CCP seems to be trying to make up for all of its shortfalls with what it perceives as one silver bullet.

The timing of the release of these maps can also be explained. The CCP perhaps aims to put ‘India in its place’ ahead of its moment of glory at the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

But there is one problem with this strategy. It has become too old and has lost its sheen. Perhaps it also displays an abject lack of imagination by CCP underlings.

The whole move has been called out for what it is: ‘Desperate propaganda arising out of loss of face for the CCP.’

India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar, speaking to NDTV on August 29, dismissed the whole episode: “Making absurd claims does not make other peoples’ territories yours.”

How To Lose Friends & Antagonize Neighbours

Not just India, Beijing has unleashed its cartographic war on other nations in the region, too, and these nations have protested in no uncertain terms of its adverse fallout in the bilateral and multilateral ties with Communist China.

Philippines and Malaysia — among the influential states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — voiced against China’s forceful claims on the territories of others.

Their strongly worded official government statements showed their disgust and dismay over China’s immature, undiplomatic move. They made it amply clear that they were unwilling to be cowed down by increasing Chinese belligerence in the region.

According to reports, the two nations also indicated that the ASEAN nations could unite as one force against Beijing’s arm-twisting tactics with blessings from the United States as Washington continues to increase its influence in the region under the Indo-Pacific strategic framework.

CCP’s latest map also claims the territories of other nations in the South China Sea, including Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam. What’s more shocking is the claim on the Russian territories, too.

CCP has forgotten that Moscow is probably one global power that could align with Beijing in case of a severe military conflict or a battle for global supremacy between Communist China and its bete noire, the United States, in the new, emerging world order.

The maps are the worst diplomatic disaster Communist China could have when it is down and out on many fronts, and it would be wise to maintain a low profile and not antagonize other nations, friends and foes alike.

Maps That Would Matter Most To Chinese People

Rather than putting out fictitious maps irrelevant to the real world, perhaps the CCP should consider creating an economic map to revive the downward-spiraling economy.

Another map, which the world would have been glad to see, would have been regions within Communist China where the CCP has committed atrocities against its minorities.

This map could also have covered some affirmative steps to improve the condition of these oppressed regions.

Unfortunately for the Chinese people, this is not to be. And for the world, the wait is getting longer.

Rather than inventing Chinese names for Arunachal Pradesh, the CCP must perhaps look hard at Tibet and Beijing’s record of human rights violations in the region.

The continuing oppression of the people of Tibet to curb their cultural and religious identity must come to an end immediately.

Perhaps this is a better way for the CCP to mend its broken image in the comity of nations.

It is high time that the CCP realizes that fictitious maps cannot solve real-world problems of human suffering. The people of China deserve better.

  • NC Bipindra is a 30-year veteran in journalism specializing in strategic affairs, geopolitics, aerospace, defense, and diplomacy. He has written extensively for the Times of India, New Indian Express, Press Trust of India, and Bloomberg News. He can be reached at ncbipindra (at)
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