When it comes to maps, China isn’t messing around.
Starting next year, you don’t want to be caught with the “wrong” maps—that is, maps containing content “that endangers the country's sovereignty, safety and interests,” according to a statement by China’s government mapping official Le Weibin.
In an effort to “boost” the mapmaking industry—and clamp down on maps that run counter to the government’s stance on issues like Taiwan’s independence and the territorial dispute over the South China Sea—China announced new regulations earlier this year on the creation, distribution, and publication of both print and online maps. The government will be monitoring maps for violations like “errors in compilation” and “leaks of secret geographic information and personal information,” according to China’s official state media, Xinhua.
Also included in this new set of regulations, which will replace mapping laws drawn up in 1995, is a section dedicated to regulating the fairly young industry of online mapping. It requires all online mapping data to be hosted by servers inside the country, and all GPS providers to obtain a cartography certificate.
Details remain fairly vague for now, but CCTV News reports that violators can face up to 200,000 yuan, or about $31,000, in fines. Businesses can also have their licenses suspended or revoked. If the violation is deemed serious enough, they can even find themselves booked on criminal charges.
But the tough stance on maps isn’t new. The Los Angeles Times reported in October that customs officials at airports often go through travelers’ belongings looking for anything pushing back on China’s official political stances. Scholars, expatriates, and reporters alike have had to abandon maps, globes, and books that rendered Taiwan in a different color than the one used for China or that failed to indicate disputed islands in the East China Sea* as the Diaoyu Islands.