PANO - On May 7th, 2009, China officially asked to circulate among the United Nations state members a map that reflects the “cow-tongue” line (or the “U-shaped line” or the so-called “9-dashed line”) in the East Sea, claiming not only the islands and reefs but also the whole sea area within this line. In response to China’s recent actions in the East Sea, the world opinion is raising a question whether China is on its way to claim its sovereignty over this dotted line despite international objection.

Various Chinese scholars with certain knowledge of international law have confirmed that there exist no legal documents to verify the existence of this illegal dotted line.

The irrational "9-dased line". Source:

Incorrect points of the “cow-tongue” line

According to Chinese scholars, the “U-shaped line” first appeared on the Location Map of the South China Sea Islands (Nanhai zhudao weizhi tu) compiled by Fu Jiaojin and Wang Xiguang and was published by Geological Bureau under China Ministry of Home Affairs in 1947.

Some people tried to hold on to the origin of this line with an aim to have an advantegous explaination for China. According to them, the “U-shaped line” was drawn by one person named Hu Jinsui in 1914. Until December 1947, an official from the Republic of China, named Bai Meichu, re-drew this line in his individual map. The 11-dotted line covered Islands of Dong Sa (Pratas), Hoang Sa (Paracel), Truong Sa (Spratly) and Trung Sa (Macclesfield Bank). However, in 1953, the 11-dotted line was adjusted into 9-dotted line. Two dots in the Tonkin Gulf was removed with no clear reason. In fact, there has so far no document featuring the accurate co-ordinate and location of the “U-shaped line” or “the 9-dashed” line been found.

Scholar, famous commentator of the online Phoenix newspaper (Hongkong, China) Xue Litai warned that China will face various difficulties and challenges from international community if it claims sovereignty over the “9-dashed” line. This scholar pointed out some incorrect points of the “cow-tongue” line.

Firstly, China itself has drawn the 11-dotted line on the map without demarcation at sea with neighbouring countries and the dashed line has received no international recognition.

Secondly, to date, China has failed to make clear that the “cow-tongue” line is the national dashed border line or traditional demarcation line at sea. Beijing has given no definition and clear longitude and latitude relating to the geological location but just drawn the dotted line on their map. That is not convincing at all.

Thirdly, if Beijing stresses that the previous 11-dotted line was the national border line that could not be violated,  why after the new China was born, Beijing itself removed two dots on the map in the Tonkin Gulf. Does China consider the fixing of national border line a joke?

No reliable legal evidence

Other Chinese scholars said that the “cow-tongue” line is only the unilateral claim of China with no firm legal foundation. These scholars also have disagreed with what China has interpreted the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS 1982). This vague interpretation on the jurisdiction without mentioning geological elements of the coastal line or basic line is completely unconvincing.

Li Linghua, a researcher at China’s National Oceanographic Data and Information Centre, the author of more than 90 articles on maritime issues and the law of the sea, which were posted on different Chinese newspapers, frankly criticized wrong viewpoint on the issue relating to the East Sea and rejected the “cow-tongue” line at the seminar “The East Sea disputes, national sovereignty and international regulations” jointly organized by Tian Ze Economic Research Institute and online newspaper on July 14th. Li Linghua stressed that “We-China had drawn the 9-dashed line with no specific longitude and latitude and legal basis”.

In his writing, “About 200-mile border map on the South China Sea (East Sea) drawn under UNCLOS” released on July 3rd, he made public a map demarcating 200-mile exclusive economic zone, concerned by nations bordering the East Sea, clearly features that areas that China has been claiming its sovereignty over basing on the “9-dashed line” are within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of Vietnam. That article also rejected the establishment of what is called “Sansha” city by China and the international bid given by China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) for 9 blocks which entirely lie in Vietnam’s continental shelf and 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Professor Zhang Shuguang from the University of Sichuan emphasized that the “cow-tongue” line claimed by China without any basis and international recognition is worthless. “Chinese interests need to be recognized by others. Without that recognition China has no right”.

Changes need to be made to advance together with the time

Some Chinese scholars have suggested using the UNCLOS 1982 to solve disputes in the respect of international law through peaceful negotiation under bilateral or multi-lateral mechanism to avoid the use of force and reduce the the risk of conflict.

On July 29th, Ji Jianguo, former Chinese Ambassador to Vietnam, who is present Head of Asia-Pacific Research Centre, in an interview given to the Global Times, criticized and rejected the stance of some Chinese people on launching a war to settle disputes in the East Sea.

Ji said that regarding the issue of the South China Sea (East Sea), some preferred to use violence but I think that posiblity is very little as both China and Vietnam want this region to be peaceful, stable and advocate settling dispute over territory via negotiations. To date, China’s standpoint has not changed.

Having recalled his participation in negotiations on border demarcation on land and in the Tonkin Gulf, Ji confirmed that since agreements were signed, the situations at borders of the two countries have been stable, practically benefiting people of the two countries, especially those who live along the border. He believed that though the two sides’ standpoint on the East Sea remains different, two sides could find acceptable basic and long-term solutions to it at last if both sides advocate peaceful negotiations.

Ji Jianguo also confirmed that allegations, such as “giving Vietnam one more lesson”, are only the viewpoints of some individuals and they do not represent Chinese Party and Government’s policies.

China’s international strategic expert Xue Li from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences completely rejected the possibility of the use of violence in the East Sea. He stressed peaceful measures and the enhancement of the confidence building to settle disputes instead of using military measures.

Li Linghua, in his article, “settlement of the East Sea dispute should not be delayed”, posted on, emphasized that China needs to carry out peaceful negotiations and dialogues, to create peaceful atmosphere with neighbouring countries who shares the same sea on the basis of the UNCLOS 1982 because this convention is the existing “Charter of the Ocean”.

On his own website, Li Linghua clearly explained the nature of the issue. According to him, the introduction of the “cow-tongue” or 9-dashed line in the Chinese textbooks has engraved in Chinese generations’ mind that it is the national border line while it had not been recognized internationally. If that confirmation remains, tense in the East Sea will never end. He hoped that Chinese scholars and people could advance together with time and find out the truth and change their incorrect viewpoints.

Reported by Ngoc Ha

Translated by Mai Huong