South China Sea: Concern over new China passports

Updated On: Nov 28, 2012

Several countries have expressed concern over new passports from the People's Republic of China. The passports contain a map of China, which includes disputed territory like the South China Sea. Vietnamese immigration is refusing to stamp the new passports, and the Philippines has also criticized China. A US State Department spokesperson said they would like to speak with China about the new passports, as it is considered provocative.

China's New Passports

Three separate pages in the new passports include China’s so- called “nine-dash” map of the sea, first published in 1947, that extends hundreds of miles south into waters claimed by other countries. The map includes the Spratly island chain, which is the subject of overlapping claims by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. The map also includes separate disputed territory claimed by China and India.

However the maps in the new passports did not include the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China and Japan.

Chinese official maps have long reflected the country's territorial claims, but including it in the new passports is viewed as particularly provocative since it requires other nations to stamp it.

In Vietnam, Chinese citizens with the new passports are still allowed to enter the country, but officials are issuing visas on separate pieces of paper. Officials say this is a "light" approach to the problem agreed by Vietnam's government. But the government has lodged a formal complaint with the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.

In the Philippines, authorities are still accepting the new Chinese passports for now. But a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said "We are considering different options as far as follow-up action", and called the new passports "contrary to the spirit of the declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea", referring to a declaration signed between China and ASEAN countries.

According to reports, officials at the Indian Embassy in Beijing have responded by issuing visas to new Chinese passport holders - embossed with India's own map.

Taiwan has also condemned the map.

"The outline of China’s map in the passport wasn’t targeted at specific countries," said China's Foreign Ministry, in response to questions. "China is willing to communicate with relevant nations and promote the healthy development of contact between China and foreign personnels".

The United States has said it will raise concerns with Beijing over the new passports. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing the US would still accept the Chinese one as a legal document.

But she added: "We do have concerns about this map which is causing tension and anxiety between and among the states in the South China Sea."

"We do intend to raise this with the Chinese in terms of it not being helpful to the environment we all seek to resolve these issues."

Report: U.S. to raise passport map issue with China [Reuters, 27 Nov 2012]

Report: Vietnam Avoids Stamping Controversial Chinese Passports [Voice of America, 26 Nov 2012

Report: China’s Passport Maps Spark Protests From Vietnam, Philippines [Bloomberg, 22 Nov 2012]

Philippines to Hold Four-Way Talks

Tensions over the South China Sea have remained high in recent months. Last week, following the ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit, the Philippines announced it would hold four-way talks on 12 December with Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The talks will exclude China, and will not be part of the ASEAN process. The ASEAN grouping has been struggling with internal differences over the South China Sea issue. Initially, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, who hosted last week's summits, said ASEAN leaders had agreed not to "internationalise" the disputes.

However, Philippine President Benigno Aquino publicly rebuked this, saying no such consensus had been reached. The final Chairman's statement from last week's summits was eventually amended accordingly.

Report: China excluded from South China Sea talks in the Philippines [ABC Radio Australia (AFP), 21 Nov 2012]