The Cow Tongue: China's Claims in the Eastern Sea (South China Sea)

By Tony Le

In 1947 the Chinese Nationalist Government issued a map on which 11 dotted lines circumscribed nearly all the Eastern Sea (South China Sea). This evolved into the 9-dotted line map in 1953. According to cartographic convention, this meant China claimed sovereignty over all the islands enclosed within those dotted lines. In 1974 China’s navy invaded the Paracel Islands under Vietnamese sovereignty and has illegally occupied the islands until the present.

Despite China’s claims of ownership over the Spratly Islands, it never physically occupied this archipelago until 1988 when its navy clashed with Vietnam’s navy and took control of 6 of the features for the first time in history. China continued to take over more features in subsequent clashes with Vietnam in 1992 and the Philippines in 1995.

Despite only actually occupying a number of features in the Spratlys, in 1992 the Chinese National People’s Congress passed a “Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone,” in which it claimed all islands in the Spratlys (and most of the rest of the Eastern Sea) as Chinese territory.

As mentioned earlier, China issued its dotted line maps claiming both land and "historic water" terrritories in the Eastern Sea giving it the whole sea up to a line ranging roughly 15 to 200 nautical miles from the coasts of the others. It is from this map that the boundaries around the claimed territories has the shape that reminds one of a “Cow Tongue”.

In 1996 Beijing established baselines completely around the Paracel Islands in a manner that would make the Paracel Islands equivalent to an archipelagic nation. China claimed the Paracels as a Chinese archipelago, with rights to all resources both within the baseline and reaching outward from it toward an exclusive economic zone that it refused to state definitely what that extent is. China further claimed that waters within the baselines were “internal waters.” This is equivalent to asserting that all waters within the baselines are “the good earth” and that neither transit nor innocent passage by foreign vessels would be permitted. At the time Beijing declared it “will announce the remaining baselines of the territorial sea of the People’s Republic of China at another time” implying that it would take the same action in the Spratlys as it did in the Paracels at a time when China was in a military position to do so effectively.

In 2007, Beijing announced that it had established the administrative city of Sansha to govern the three archipelagos that it laid claims to in the Eastern Sea, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

As it stands today, China’s claims in the Eastern Sea, among which are the Paracel and Spratly Islands, and territorial waters add up to approximately 80 percent of the area of this region, including 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones around the various islands.

China says this claim of EEZ is based on the 1982 UNCLOS. But in fact, UNCLOS does not say that any island can claim 200 miles. UNCLOS says that 12 miles can be claimed for small islands that don’t have local population and economic life. This is the case with virtually all the islands being disputed on the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos. It is obvious that China’s claim of 200 miles is pure greed stemming from its humongous appetite for cotrol of the region and its resources, and not at all founded on UNCLOS.

UNCLOS stipulates that when there are overlapping claims present, a fair resolution must be reached by the claimants. Yet, China thinks that it can take little tiny islands and claim as much of the sea as the coastline of a country, notwithstanding that China’s claims of sovereignty over these islands are not at all well-founded. China knows that it is not fair, that is why it consistently refused to settle the matter in International Court because it knows that it stands little chance of convincing anyone of its claims. Instead China prefers bilateral negotiations as a way to easily assert its influence on individual parties. And if diplomatic pressure does not work, China can always resort to its 094 nuclear submarines that it has put into its newly built secret nuclear naval base in Sanya, Hainan to send the message to its neighbors to remind them who’s the boss. History has indeed shown that Beijing is not at all unwilling to flex its military muscles when its words alone is not enough to achieve the desired goals. And regular military exercises along with a formidable military buildup taking place in the region forewarns of what might come about if the Big Brother doesn't get his way.


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angel said...

i am especially fond of laynie browne’s take in her 2007 book daily sonnets…lovely gentle surprising fun familial. she takes after bernadette mayer…
have you done a sonnet prompt for read/write/poem yet?
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Derick Hoang said...

China now posted their cow's tongue on their own version of "google" World Map. The website is

China claims Spratly Islands over Philippines said...

Read more about “China claims Spratly Islands over Philippines” at

ako said...


ako said...

This is shit

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Don't worry about chinese cow tongue. Because, the cow stick out its tongue is the cow going to be dead.

Anonymous said...

Very one-sided post. For example, it would have been more informative had you included what each of the 8 countries claims are based upon (i.e. China has maps that go back to Song and Ming dynasty while Philippines is mainly based upon UNLOS, etc.

For anyone interested in a academically written and more objective read, see professor Christopher Joyner's work @