Detailed measures stipulate place name translation from foreign language must not compromise China’s territorial claims, sovereign rights
Published: Mar 16, 2024 02:43 PM
Photo taken on Dec 16, 2021 with a mobile phone shows Mount Namjagbarwa in Nyingchi, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.Photo:Xinhua

Photo taken on Dec 16, 2021 with a mobile phone shows Mount Namjagbarwa in Nyingchi, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.Photo:Xinhua

China's Ministry of Civil Affairs on Friday published 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. 

Set to take effect from May 1, 2024, the implementation measures 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."

Translation of place names in foreign languages or minority languages should comply with standards formulated by related organs of the State Council. The standard translations are made public through notices, the national database for geographical names and official publications on geographical names, according to the implementation measures. 

The measures released on Friday also clarified that names of a person, company or trademark should not be used as geographical names and specified the general rules and procedures of naming or renaming localities. 

The State Council issued a revised regulation on place names in April 2022, which is applicable to naming, renaming, usage, cultural protection and other management on geographical names within Chinese territories. 

Analysts noted the newly released implementation measures are made in accordance with the revision. 

Zhi Zhenfeng, a research fellow with the Institute of Law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Saturday that geographical names are not only directly related to administration and everyday life, but also carry legal and sovereign implications.   

Standardization of name translation helps confirm the scope of a geographical name refers to and all administrative rights and public geographical services (mapping and navigating, weather forecast, etc) are based on that, Zhi explained. 

As China still has disputes over some territories with certain neighboring 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, Zhi stressed. 

Analysts mentioned 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. 

The Ministry of Civil Affairs 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 April 2023.

Experts told the Global Times that the move is meaningful in safeguarding national sovereignty, maintaining peace in border regions and managing border-related matters at a legal level. Using standard place names helps raise awareness of Chinese territory. 

The April 2023 issuance was the third list of standardized geographical names in Zangnan published by the ministry. 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.