Saturday, November 24, 2012

Border disputes boil over in China passport row

India has become the latest country to air its anger over maps printed in new Chinese passports which encompass disputed regions which China claims for its own. The issue may create problems for Chinese passport holders who have already found themselves at odds with border officials in Vietnam [BBC].


China began issuing new versions of its passports to include electronic chips on May 15th, however  criticism only surfaced in the last week with some users finding themselves having to purchase additional paperwork after they tried to enter Vietnam.

China has enraged several neighbours with the addition of the map which shows a few dashes staking its claim on the entire South China Sea and even Taiwan. The change highlights China's long standing claim on the South China Sea in its entirety, though parts of the waters also are claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

India angered

In India's first official reaction, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said, "We are not prepared to accept it. We, therefore, ensure that our flags of disagreement are put out immediately when something happens. We can do it in an agreeable way or you can do it in a disagreeable way," he told a leading news channel.

The Indian Embassy in Beijing has responded by issuing visas to Chinese nationals with a map of India including Arunachal and Aksai Chin as part of its territory [FT / Daily Mail].

"Malevolent actions"

Meanwhile the Vietnamese government has sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi demanding that Beijing remove the "erroneous content" printed in the passport. "I think it is one very poisonous step by Beijing among their thousands of malevolent actions," Nguyen Quang, a former adviser to the Vietnamese government told the Financial Times.

The Philippines has also protested China's depiction of its claims over the entire South China Sea and sent a note to the Chinese Embassy in Manila. Albert del Rosario, Philippine foreign secretary, said Manila "strongly protests'' the new map. "The Philippines does not accept the validity of the nine-dash lines that amount to an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law," del Rosario said [Al Jazeera].

"Sovereignty violation"

While not making clear whether those carrying the passports would be barred from entering the country, the Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said that Chinese carrying the new passport would be violating Philippine national sovereignty.

Some Chinese carrying the passport have already run into problems on trying to visit Vietnam where border officials have insisted on some pay for additional papers.

Visa problems

Vietnamese immigration is refusing to paste visas inside the new passports, instead putting the visa on a separate, detached, page. "When I tried to cross the border, the officials refused to stamp my visa," said David Li, 19, from Guangdong province, who ran into problems getting into Vietnam on November 19th.

"They claimed my visa was invalid. They said it was because on the new passport's map, the South China Sea part of China's marine border crossed Vietnam's territory, so if they stamped on it, it means they acknowledge China's claim," he added.

Li said two other passengers on his flight also had problems with their new passports, and that he was forced to buy a new visa for 50,000 Vietnamese dong [£1.50].

Kien Deng, a Chinese travel agent who has worked in Vietnam for three years, said the Vietnamese officials had used the map for their financial advantage, charging a fee of 30 yuan [£3] to holders of the offending passport in order to insert a new visa [Telegraph].

China should "reverse their incorrect prints" on the passports, Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesman for Vietnam's foreign ministry insisted. "These actions by China have violated Vietnam's sovereignty to the Paracel and Spratly islands as well as our rights and jurisdiction to related maritime areas in the South China Sea, or East Sea." [Business Week]


The map was widely condemned in Taiwan, which split from China after a civil war in 1949. Authorities said it could harm the warming ties the historic rivals have enjoyed since Ma Ying-jeou became president more than four years ago.

"This is total ignorance of reality and only provokes disputes," said Taiwan's mainland affairs council, the cabinet-level body responsible for ties with Beijing. The council said the government would not accept the map. Taiwan has not recognised China's passports for some time and visitors to the island must have special travel documents [Guardian].

China defends action

For its part China insists there is nothing wrong with the passport saying it is based on international standards. The new passports which include electronic chips were issued on the 15th of May this year but the erroneous maps were only spotted recently. "The outline map of China on the passport is not directed against any particular country," a ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying told media this week.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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