A SMALL Scottish cartography firm is to shape China’s view of the world after signing a lucrative deal to supply maps to Beijing authorities.

Charts supplied by Midlothian company XYZ Maps will be used to help the Chinese government in planning and service delivery.

The deal was finalised following months of work which reveals a fundamental truth about the geographical documents – the world is how you make it.

AS Dr Tim Rideout of XYZ Maps told The National, maps are “political documents”, with the meaning in the eye of the beholder.

To have the deal with the National Geomatics Centre of China (NGCC) signed off, Rideout and his team had to review and overhaul existing charts for accuracy – not because of errors, but because the information they contained did not accord with the country’s policy.

That included the labelling of Tibet, as well as other issues. “If you’re going to sell maps in China,” he said, “then you have to get a certificate from the Chinese government to say they comply with the Chinese view of the world. Any disputed territories have to be shown as Chinese.”

ACCORDING to Rideout, the changes are simply part of the business of cartography.

While world maps are often presented as bearers of immutable truths, the reality is that they are subject to constant revisions reflecting shifts in boundaries – and that there is no universally accepted version. The maps Scottish audiences are used to bear key differences to those used in some other parts of the globe.

“Maps have always been used as a political weapon,” Rideout said, “particularly because people treat a map as an objective document that just tells the truth. It doesn’t, it always tells what the author wants it to.”

TO gain Beijing’s approval, XYZ had to ensure the disputed South China Sea – which is the subject of claims by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and China – was marked as Chinese.

There was also no question of presenting 23.3 million-strong island nation Taiwan as anything other than the People’s Republic of China, despite its near-90 years of practical independence, while President Xi Jinping’s administration continues to regard it as a rebel region.

Likewise, while XYZ would ordinarily show Tibet as disputed territory, this had to be altered, along with changes to various sections of China’s borders with India and Pakistan in respect of territorial claims.

PLENTY of them. The Falkland Islands are not always so named, given the ongoing claim to the British overseas territory by Argentina. Islas Malvinas, the name used by Argentina, is included on documents for that audience, and on those used to promote its agenda. Japanese charts also show the archipelago as Argentinian.

The very live conflict on sovereignty over Crimea is also an issue, with XYZ currently presenting the region as Ukranian under Russian occupation. The long-running dispute over Kashmir is another. “Every map in India shows Kashmir as part of India,” says Rideout, “and every map in Pakistan shows it as part of Pakistan.”

He told The National how one producer saw its guides taken off shelves in both countries as they highlighted the ceasefire line instead of official boundaries, adding that: “The only thing India and Pakistan can agree on is that the ceasefire line is not the border.”

NOPE – these issues crop up in just about every part of the world. According to Rideout, handling by publishers “all depends on where you are trying to get customers”. He said: “A few years ago, National Geographic tried to be fair with its map of the Middle East on what was traditionally called the Persian Gulf. They drew a line and put that name on the Iranian side, with Arabian Gulf on the Saudi Arabian side. “They felt to use both names would mean everybody would be happy – and got more than two million complaints because all they did was upset everyone. They now just call it the Gulf.”

YOU bet. It was XYZ, after all, that created a European chart showing an independent Scotland. The document was an attempt to future-proof its collections and was a hit after release in Germany.

In recent history, the Scottish Sea was wiped off the map as usage changed to the North Sea. The shift started around 100 years ago.

Meanwhile, Atlantic outcrop Rockall was claimed by the UK in 1955, but Ireland didn’t recognise that. Then there was the late-1990s redrawing of the Scotland-England maritime boundary, which saw the line shift 70 miles north.

YES. The $50,000 agreement covers world, continental and country artwork, plus data on rivers, towns and more. Chunhua Chen, managing director of agent Beijing E-Carto Technologies, said the NGCC had chosen the Scottish seller because of its “flexible licence terms, world coverage and because the map artwork was so beautiful”.