China has published its first official vertical national map incorporating the vast South China Sea, with equal weight given to both land and sea, in its latest move emphasising its claims of sovereignty over the disputed waters.
Previous official maps of China were horizontal and focused on the country’s vast land area. And the country’s sea areas and islands in the South China Sea were often featured on a smaller scale, in a separate box-out in a bottom corner of the map.
In the new map, which went on sale on Monday, the islands and claimed waters in the South China Sea have been given the same amount of weight as China’s land areas, and are featured on the same scale in one complete map. The South China Sea area is more prominent in the new map and is marked out by a nine-dash demarcation line. China claims all the islands and their adjacent waters encompassed by the line are part of its sovereignty.
China’s survey and mapping administration has approved the map published by Hunan Map Press, which said the publication was of “great significance in safeguarding the nation’s water sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
“[This helps to] correct misconceptions that territories carry different weights, and fosters a raised territorial awareness and marine consciousness with the public,” editor-in-chief Lei Yixun of the press was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
The vast South China Sea, rich in oil, gas and fisheries, is surrounded by a host of Southeast Asian countries.
China's nine-dash line encompasses about 90 per cent of the Sea, while the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan each claims parts of the waters.
This isn’t the first time that Beijing has used maps to assert its ownership of the South China Sea. The latest Chinese passport that has been issued since 2012 incorporates a map that highlights almost the entire South China Sea as being part of Chinese territory. This step sparked fierce protests from China’s neighbours, most notably Vietnam and the Philippines. 
Lee Yunglung, a professor at the South China Sea Institute of Xiamen University, said the new map may have been published to test the reactions of China’s neighbours.
“The fact that the map is published by a local publication house enables Beijing to dodge the potential strong resistance from its neighbours. At the same time it paves the way for the government to promote the usage of the map in the future if the backlash isn’t too severe,” Lee said.
He added the move had multiple advantages for the government.
“Domestically speaking, [the map] not only promotes the public’s territorial awareness, it also serves as evidence to strengthen and consolidate Beijing’s territorial claim.
And internationally “it asserts to neighbouring nations that the Chinese government is determined to weight its water territories equally with its land,” he added.
“It implies China could potentially react to sea disputes with the same degree of intensity as if it was dealing with Tibet or Xinjiang separatists.”