Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - The Origins of China’s “Nine-dash line”: A Historical Perspective

Friday, July 6
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Magnolia, Lower Ground Floor

One of the major contentions, both politically and in terms of international law, is China’s claims to all of the “islands” in the South China Sea that fall within the “nine-dash” line that has appeared on Chinese maps since the late 1940s.  While this line (originally eleven dashes) first appeared on maps produced by the Nationalist government of the Republic of China (ROC), the Communist government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has likewise asserted the same historical claims since 1949.  But the origins of the line and the legal justification of the line are not well understood.  Moreover, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 rejected the validity of the line as a basis for China’s claims to islands in the South China Sea.


Using documents from government archives in Taiwan, this paper traces the origins of the “nine-dash line” and the legal justification China put forward to justify this boundary line in the late 1940s when the line first appeared on ROC maps.   While such historical claims do not stand up to scrutiny when challenged by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, nevertheless, both Taiwan (ROC) and the PRC continue to assert claims based on the assumed validity of the “nine-dash line”.  Understanding China’s historical narrative based on historical documents is critical to understanding China’s contemporary perspective on the South China Sea.

Eric Hyer

Brigham Young University, United States

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