China has started back its process of laying official claims over the whole of the South China Sea via its nine-dash lines. Not content with claiming sovereignty over nearly every crag of rock and spit of sand in the South China Sea, an investigation by BenarNews found that the country has taken the unusual step of registering trademarks over hundreds of land features scattered throughout those disputed waters. Although this practice was relatively covert and remained low-key under the Trump administration, with Biden in power, China is confidently back on the table and warning about possible actions against the companies not complying with the CCP orders.
That action is meeting with disapproval from other South China Sea claimants. Taiwan and Vietnam have rejected the legitimacy of the trademarks, which experts described as a possible attempt by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to control how domestic and even foreign companies use South China Sea branding. The reaction by the neighbouring countries are legitimate, given if the paper dragon forces the international as well as domestic brands to accept the Chinese control of the Islands in the South China Sea, in the long run, there will be no room for questioning these claims.
Recently, around two hundred Chinese “fishing boats”, many of considerable size, have entered waters decreed by an UN-designated agency as Manila’s, and despite calls from Duterte to his counterpart in Beijing, they refused to leave these waters. In addition to this, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sent a large number of aircraft into Taiwan’s air zone. Thus, it is not a hidden fact that China has become more emboldened under the Biden administration by realising the soft hand approach that the Biden administration is following the world over.
Unlike most of China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea, the trademark registrations were introduced seven years ago and largely went unnoticed given China knew the dangers of pursuing it overtly under the Trump presidency. However, according to a study of Chinese government documents conducted by BenarNews in 2014, Sansha City — which is in charge of managing the country’s claims in the South China Sea — filed thousands of domestic trademark applications covering 281 unique rocks, reefs, shoals, and other disputed features, as well as entire regions of the South China Sea.
However, the CCP is now threatening foreign brands and overtly forcing companies to comply with its version of the political geography of the South China Sea. Chinese regulators said that H&M has agreed to change a “problematic map” online following government criticism. On 2nd April, the Shanghai branch of the Cyberspace Administration of China said that it had been alerted by members of the public to a “problematic map of China” on H&M’s website.
It did not say what was wrong with the diagram, but a graphic from an earlier People’s Daily article showing the so-called nine-dash line, the symbol Beijing uses to assert about 90% of the disputed waters of the South China Sea – was widely circulated on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like website, according to SCMP. The Shanghai municipal bureau of planning and natural resources ordered the “error” to be remedied immediately and H&M complied, according to the cyberspace watchdog.
This led to a flurry of online criticism of H&M’s decision in Vietnam and rightly so. However, the bigger picture to note here is that China finds itself comfortable enough to start economic colonialism after a downright bully move of occupying other country’s Islands and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). The fact that this confidence came as soon as Joe Biden stepped into the office goes on to tell a lot about how disastrous Joe Biden’s foreign policy has been.