China Southern Got the South China Sea Memo

The other day, in the midst of a long flight on China Southern Airlines, I turned – as I like to do – to the in-flight magazine. Nihao is actually better than most and, after losing myself in a brief essay on the nature of time (I’m not kidding), I flipped to the back, and the maps, where I came across this curious map – and sub-map, in the lower right corner – showing the airline’s domestic Chinese services.

And, below, a close-up of the circled area:

Those who follow these sorts of things know that sovereignty over the “Islands of [the] South China Sea” is fiercely contested between China and the other countries that border them. It’s a touchy, touchy issue, a source of military build-ups and diplomatic spats and, in the case of China at least, the belief that if you claim sovereignty often and loudly enough, you get sovereignty. With this in mind, I’ll point out that – in my experience – airlines aren’t often in the habit of including maps of politically sensitive areas to which they don’t fly in their inflight magazines. At a minimum, it’s a potent reminder of just how potent (and ubiquitous, in some quarters) this issue has become. And China Southern, I’d dare say, got the memo. Next: checking Malaysian Air’s inflight for its treatment of the disputed Spratlys. Stay tuned …


  1. That’s a greatr idea for a blog series, how national inflights depict disputed territories. Go for it. Anyway doesn’t the PLA have close ties to the remains of the four national airlines from the mid-1990s? That would explaina lot.

  2. I’ve been waiting all week for you to spout off on Hu Jintao’s state visit and so far you’ve totally disappointed me. Everybody else in the China blogging universe knows what it all “really means,” don’t you (ha ha)? 🙂

  3. M – Actually, I’ve been busy editing a 2500-page anthology of 600-word essays called “Everything They Said You Needed to Know About Hu-Obama.”

  4. Looks like China Southern did a cut ‘n paste from a Chinese history textbook. I’m only surprised they resisted the urge to include the Korean peninsula.

  5. I wouldn’t get too worked up about that. For most of our history the US declared indisputable sovereignty over disputed territory and made maps to support the contention. That’s what countries do when they start to feel their power a bit.

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