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China outlaws place names that fail to conform to its territorial claims

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(TibetanReview.net, Mar17’24) —China has made it clear Mar 15 that geographical names in ethnic minority or foreign languages should reflect the country’s sovereign and extraterritorial claims when translated into Chinese characters. These would include names of islands in the South China Sea, places in India’s Arunachal Pradesh state, and the name of the occupied territory of Tibet.

For this purpose, the Ministry of Civil Affairs published on Mar 15, implementation measures addressing the management of geographical names, which detailed the requirements for translation of place names in ethnic minority or foreign languages into Chinese characters, reported China’s official globaltimes.cn Mar 16.

China recently made it clear that the Chinese name “Xizang” should be used in place of “Tibet” or “Tibet Autonomous Region” to refer to “Xizang Autonomous Region”, which is roughly only the western half of Tibet proper. It thereby made it clear that “Tibet” proper, which includes the Qinghai province and other territories merged with its Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces as well, no longer exists and should not be used in official documents as a placename.

Set to take effect from May 1, 2024, the implementation measures have stipulated in Article 13 that “place name in foreign language that may harm China’s territorial claims and sovereignty rights shall not be directly quoted or translated without authorization.”

The report cited the implementation measures as saying translation of place names in foreign languages or minority languages should comply with standards formulated by related organs of the State Council, which is China’s cabinet. The standard translations are or will be made public through notices, the national database for geographical names and official publications on geographical names.

The report noted that the State Council had issued a revised regulation on place names in Apr 2022, which was applicable to naming, renaming, usage, cultural protection and other management on geographical names within Chinese territories.

In this connection, Zhi Zhenfeng, a research fellow with the Institute of Law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has said that as China still has disputes over some territories with certain neighbouring countries, the use of geographical names of places in disputes directly relates to sovereign rights. Using the incorrect translation or non-standard translation could cause confusion and encroach China’s territorial integrity, he has sought to stress.

The report cited Chinese analysts as mentioning the example of maritime disputes in the South China Sea with countries like the Philippines. When referring to islands and reefs concerned, the use of standard translation is a firm declaration of sovereignty and transliteration of foreign names means concession of legal rights, they were cited as saying.

The report also noted that the Ministry of Civil Affairs had standardized the names of 11 places in Zangnan (the southern part of Southwest China’s Xizang Autonomous Region) in Chinese characters, Tibetan and pinyin in Apr 2023. Using standard place names helps raise awareness of Chinese territory, it cited Chinese “experts” as saying.

The report said the Apr 2023 issuance was the third list of standardized geographical names in “Zangnan” published by the ministry. It added that the first list of the standardized names of six places in “Zangnan” was released in 2017, while the second list of 15 places was issued in 2021.

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