Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Two Biggest Denials in Political Geography

Denial is a hard thing to understand.  Some issues are controversial and therefore up to heated debate; however, some topics in geography cause a impassioned denial of facts on the ground.  Here are two major denials in political geography that can cause one to pause looking for consistent logic which politics denies.

The Republic of China Not on Some Maps

It is interesting to see if maps show Taiwan, in reality the Republic of China, as an independent country or not.  Microsoft's Bing does notYahoo Maps doesGoogle Maps does, and National Geographic has a weird hybrid answer of giving Taiwan the labels of an independent country while having it be the same color as the People's Republic of China.  The United Nations does not recognize the Republic of China as a legitimate government while the United States and many other countries officially deny Taiwan being policatlly separate from Beijing's People's Republic of China while allowing open business and government ties between themselves and the Republic of China.

The problem lies with both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China laying claim to each other's territory.  The Republic of China does not claim Taiwan is independent but instead claims control of all of China with Taiwan being its temporary base.  Before the 1970s international opinion was in favor of the Republic of China but since then the balance has been in the Communist's People's Republic favor ever since.  Now only a handful of Pacific island states, Latin American countries, and the Vatican recognize the Republic of China as the legal ruler of all of China.

Strangely there is an Asian counter part to two government laying claim to each other.  Both the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) claim to be the sole government of a Korean state streaching from the Yalu River in the north to the Korean Strait in the south.  These two states have long been treated as two separate countries by most other countries in maps and diplomacy.  However, I have seen maps from the height of the Cold War showing Germany as one country with a dotted line between East and West (both the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany claimed each one was the sole valid state for all of Germany) and I also saw the dotted line dividing Vietnam in many maps during the Vietnam War.  What separates the Koreas from the cartographic rules which favored the Germanys and Vietnams is beyond me.

Tel Aviv:  Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel

I once watched a news report on the revolution in Egypt.  The reporter ended her report by saying Egypt was waiting for a response from Tel Aviv. She meant Egypt was waiting for a response from the Israeli government but the government of Israel has not be seated in Tel Aviv since 1949.  The reason for this weird statement is because no country, including the United States, recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The reason for this is complex.  An old English-language Soviet atlas I have states Jerusalem is not Israel's capital because Jerusalem was not given to the Jewish state by the United Nations in it's proposal for a Jewish and a Palestinian state.  The argument currently has shifted to most states not recognize Israel's control of the eastern half of Jersualem (itself occupied by Jordan during the late 1940s) or the 1980 law which formally united both halves of Jerusalem and formally declared a (re-)united Jerusalem as Israel's capital.  The latter argument ignores Israel moving the capital to Jerusalem in 1949 and west Jerusalem being in the pre-1967 borders of Israel.  

While the CIA World Factbook is accurate in saying Jerusalem is the capital while giving a caveat, Canada's "Factsheet" leaves the capital line blank.  Strangely though all major western maps show Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite not one country (zero!) officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.


Joe Jones said...

One somewhat troubling thing that I've noticed: China seems to make the majority of globes nowadays, and if you go globe shopping you are likely to discover that most globes reflect China's wacky view of its borders, including its ownership of Taiwan and the Spratly Islands.

Joe Jones said...

Also, here in Japan, Taiwan is NEVER shown as an independent state on maps. The reason, as far as I can tell, is that the Japanese education ministry won't accept maps in textbooks which contradict Japanese foreign policy, and mapmakers are too lazy to make separate maps for school and non-school publication.

Catholicgauze said...

Joe Jones,
Interesting on Japanese maps and the government-private map maker relationship.

Matt said...

I've seen European maps with Tel-Aviv as Israel's capital, which is very odd, as even if you want to deny that Jerusalem is the capital, that doesn't make Tel-Aviv the capital any more than Haifa or Eilat.

Perhaps the weirdest thing I've seen is a Chinese Internet map that, following the custom of old Soviet maps, shows Israel's borders as that proposed in the 1947 UN partition plan that was rejected by the Arabs.

Of course, that's not the only legal fiction on maps. There are plenty of de facto independent countries that may not appear on maps, such as Kosovo (NG has it marked off from Serbia with a dotted line but doesn't show a capital or put it in a different country), Somaliland, Northern Cyprus and Transnistria.

Dan tdaxp said...

Really cool post.

Here's my understanding of the "two Koreas/Chinas/Germanies/Vietnam" situation. It might be way off.

The Korean War was terrifying for both superpowers, because it revealed that local clients could profoundly interfer with the Superpower's priorities, profoundly set back Soviet interests in China (the militarization of Manchuria essentially pre-empted existing Soviet plans for a future Manchurian SSR), while in the US the uniformed head of operations openly challenged the authority of the President. Bad mojo all around.

Following this, the US and USSR both attempted to act like conservative empires, 'splitting the difference' where possible to disempower their clients and give themselves maximize room for maneuver.

With the Germanies this was complicated by the special status of Berlin, but both were admitted to the UN. The Koreas, likewise, were both admitted, inspite of the state of war between the two.

With the Chinas, the situation was complicated by the willingness of both local clients to cooperate with each other to disempower their patrons. Chiang and Mao used intermediaries to arrange shelling on each other's territory that guaranteed that each could constantly resupply their positions (either "winning" the battle would lead to a collapse of patronage for both!).

My understanding was that Vietnam was a decolonization procedure that went array. Most of the third world ended up under generally thuggish nationalist groups (the FLN, etc.). The Vietnamese Communist Party originated as local branch of the KMT/CCP United Front, however, and had a seriousness of organization and ideology largely absent elsewhere. If a FLN-like group had defeated the french instead of Ho, I think the situation would not have escalated as it did.

Anonymous said...

Most countries have their embassy in Tel Aviv which might explain why they refer to it as the capital instead of Eilat or Haifa.

Joe Jones said...

There was a comment in the most recent issue of The Economist about map censorship. They did a feature on India and Pakistan and included a map of the region. On the next page they had a special "note to Indian readers" which said that the map would probably be torn or blacked out from copies sold in India since it didn't match the official view on national borders, and that Indian readers could go online to see it.

Catholicgauze said...

Interesting! I had no idea about that the "world's largest democracy" would do such a thing.