Beijing has included its South China Sea territorial claims on
maps printed inside new Chinese passports, infuriating at least one of its
Vietnam has made a formal complaint to Beijing about the new passports.
“The Vietnamese side has taken note of this matter and the two sides are
discussing it, but so far there has been no result,” said Vietnam’s embassy in
Other countries that have clashed with China over its assertions
in the South China Sea, in particular the Philippines, are also worried China
is trying to force their immigration officials to implicitly recognise Chinese
claims every time a Chinese citizen is given a visa or an entry or exit stamp
in one of the new passports.
The Philippines embassy in Beijing has not responded to requests
The territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas have
overshadowed a series of summits of Asia-Pacific leaders in Cambodia attended
by US President Barack Obama this week, with discord among southeast Asian
nations over how to respond to an increasingly assertive China.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, including
large swaths of territory that smaller neighbouring countries say belongs to
them, and Beijing has been increasingly strident in recent years in asserting
The claims are represented on Chinese maps by a “nine-dash line”
that incorporates the entire South China Sea and hugs the coastline of the
Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and a small part of Indonesia The nine dashes enclose a region that is believed to
be rich in undersea energy reserves and also incorporate the self-ruled island
of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory. Until recently, most regional
governments had assumed the nine-dash line represented Beijing’s starting
position for negotiations.
China undermined that view in June when CNOOC , a state oil
company, invited foreign groups to tender for exploration rights in an area
close to Vietnam’s shoreline which Hanoi had already licensed to America’s
ExxonMobil and Russia’s Gazprom. The inclusion of the South China Sea claims and the
nine dashes in the latest Chinese passport has raised further doubts about
China’s willingness to compromise on the issue.
“This is viewed as quite a serious escalation because China is
issuing millions of these new passports and adult passports are valid for 10
years,” said one senior Beijing-based diplomat who asked not to be identified
because of the sensitivity of the issue. “If Beijing were to change its position
later it would have to recall all those passports.”
China’s ministry of public security oversees the design and
issuing of the new Chinese passports, according to an official at the Chinese
foreign ministry who declined to comment further. As well as the controversial
map, the passports also include pictures of scenic spots in China, as well as
two popular tourist destinations on Taiwan.
“The map on the Chinese passport is not directed at any specific
country,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement to the FT on
Wednesday. “China is willing to actively communicate with the relevant
Since 2010 China has taken a far more strident stance on its
territorial claims in the South China Sea, as well as in the East China Sea,
where it claims the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in
Chinese, as its own territory.
The Japanese government has also paid close attention to the new
Chinese passports but the scale of the map is so small that the islands are not
visible and Tokyo has not raised the issue with Beijing, according to diplomats
familiar with the matter.
The Chinese government began issuing the new passports, which
include electronic chips for the first time, about five months ago.
“I think it’s one very poisonous step by Beijing among their
thousands of malevolent actions,” said Nguyen Quang A, a former adviser to the
Vietnamese government. “When Chinese people visit Vietnam we have to accept it
and place a stamp on their passports...Everyone in the world must raise their voices
now, not just the Vietnamese people.”
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international affairs at Renmin
University, said including China’s territorial claims in the new passports
could “demonstrate our national sovereignty but it could also make things more
problematic and there is already more than enough trouble [between China and
its neighbours over territorial claims in the South China Sea]”. Prof Shi said
it was likely that the decision to include the map was made at ministerial
level rather than at the national leadership level.
The Taiwanese government told the FT it had “noticed” the new
passports but had not filed a formal complaint with Beijing.
“The mainland should face the reality of the Republic of China’s
existence and our established foundation,” Taiwan’s mainland affairs council
said. “We should put aside disputes and face the reality and work together
towards peaceful and stable development across the Taiwan Strait.”
— Additional Reporting by Gu Yu in Beijing, Nguyen Phuong Linh in
Hanoi and Sarah Mishkin in Taiwan.