The contested borders on my Christmas tree

Every Christmas I love being reunited with my growing collection of globe-themed baubles. Each has its own cartographic style – from the glittery to the antique – and I take a moment each year to admire them. As I hung the final one on the tree this year, I spotted something that offered a fascinating insight into how geopolitics can play out in the unlikeliest of places: my box of decorations.

I spotted an attribution on one of the globes to ‘Beijing Boom Cartographic’ and ‘Sinomaps Press’. I then looked at the others and found – in tiny writing – ‘Copy certified by the Survey of India’.

All maps mark a moment in time so borders are always subject to change- especially if the globes were made in different years – but both China and India have tight controls on how borders can be drawn. Even something as innocuous as a Christmas decoration will need to have the ‘correct’ state-sanctioned map, which will differ from international conventions. And sure enough I have spotted some important differences in how the world is shown on my Christmas tree…

South China Sea

The South China Sea is a contested area of ocean where China has made several claims. On the Chinese made globe I’ve pointed to the ‘nine-dash line‘ marked in red that marks the extent of the Chinese claim. It is also one of the most heavily labelled parts of that globe including labels for the ‘South China Sea Islands’. Compare that to the Indian made globe, none of these labels exist and Taiwan is given it’s own colour to differentiate it from mainlined China. On the Chinese globe they are they same.

Disputed Borders

India, Pakistan and China are involved in a border dispute over the region of Kashmir and this too plays out on the Christmas baubles. You can see on the Indian made decoration the Indian border kinks into China and prevents Pakistan from touching China. On the Chinese bauble we see Pakistan extending to China and the kink is gone.

The dispute is really nicely explained here and by the maps below.

Credit: Al Jazeera

Of course these differences will go unnoticed for the vast majority of the globes hanging from tree each year (I had to use a macro lens to photograph them), but if I were to take the Indian globe to China and I’ll be reprimanded by the authorities. The first forbidden items listed on Indian customs declaration forms are ‘Maps and literature where Indian boundaries have been shown incorrectly’ so if I were to pack a Chinese decoration in my suitcase I might be refused entry.

The stockists of these globe decorations look to India and China to manufacture them cheaply perhaps without realising they are subject to these geopolitical disputes that are now being played out on my Christmas tree. Fortunately I live where maps – however contentious – can be safely displayed so I’ll keep hanging the globes, but I’ll certainly never look at my collection of baubles the same way again.