BEIJING (Reuters) - China has unveiled a new official map of the country giving greater play to its claims on the South China Sea, state media said on Wednesday, making the disputed waters and its numerous islets and reefs more clearly seem like national territory.
Previous maps published by the government already include China's claims to most of the South China Sea, but in a little box normally in a bottom corner to enable the rest of the country to fit on the map.
The new, longer map dispenses with the box, and shows continental China along with its self-declared sea boundary in the South China Sea - stretching right down to the coasts of Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines - on one complete map.
"The islands of the South China Sea on the traditional map of China are shown in a cut-away box, and readers cannot fully, directly know the full map of China," the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily said on its website.
Old maps make the South China Sea's islands appear more like an appendage rather than an integral part of the country, which the new map makes "obvious with a single glance", the report added.
"This vertical map of China has important meaning for promoting citizens' better understanding of ... maintaining (our) maritime rights and territorial integrity," an unnamed official with the map's publishers told the newspaper.
China's foreign ministry said people should not read too much into the issuing of the new map.
"The goal is to serve the Chinese public. As for the intentions, I think there is no need to make too much of any association here," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
"China's position on the South China Sea issue is consistent and extremely clear. Our stance has not changed."
Beijing claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, but parts of the potentially energy-rich waters are also subject to claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Tensions have risen sharply in the region in recent months, especially between China and both Vietnam and the Philippines.
China's positioning of an oil rig in waters claimed by both Beijing and Hanoi last month has lead to rammings at sea between ships from both countries and anti-Chinese violence in Vietnam.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ron Popeski)