The Invention of China’s South China Sea Claims and Implications for Southeast Asia


About the Webinar

How did China come to claim non-existent islands over a thousand kilometres from its coast as part of its ‘historic territory’? The underwater features of James Shoal (off Borneo), Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam) and Seahorse Shoal (off the Philippines) are now key sites in the battles over maritime resources in the South China Sea. They mark the outermost limits of China’s ‘U-shaped’ or ‘nine-dashed’ line, which demarcates Beijing’s ambiguous maritime and territorial claims. In this talk, Bill Hayton will explain how a failed Chinese official who became a self-taught geography professor and two of his students who became government advisors invented the line in the 1930s and 1940s. He will argue that understanding the haphazard origins of this mistaken territorial claim opens the way for compromise and a peaceful settlement of the South China Sea disputes. The talk will highlight the final chapter of Bill Hayton’s recently published book ‘The Invention of China’ and implications for Southeast Asia.

About the Speaker

Bill Hayton is an Associate Fellow of Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House in London and author of ‘The Invention of China’ just published by Yale University Press. He is also the author of ‘The South China Sea: the struggle for power in Asia’ (2014) and ‘Vietnam: rising dragon’ (2010, 2nd edition 2020) – both published by Yale. He has worked for BBC News since 1998 including a year as the BBC Vietnam reporter in 2006/7 and another year on secondment to Myanmar’s state broadcaster in 2013/14. In 2019 he received his PhD from the University of Cambridge for work on the history and development of the South China Sea disputes.


This webinar will be delivered online entirely. You can join the webinar at the specified date and time using devices (computer, phone, or tablet) with internet connection.

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For the best experience, please mute your microphone. If you have questions for the speaker, please key in your questions via the Q&A, stating your name and affiliation. The moderator will field them to the speaker during the Q&A session.


Jan 11 2021


4:00 pm - 5:00 pm