China has included its South China Sea on maps printed inside new Chinese passports.
Vietnam has accordingly 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 Beijing.
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 recognize Chinese claims every time a Chinese citizen is given a visa or an entry or exit stamp in one of the new passports.
The Philippine embassy in Beijing has not responded to requests for comment.
The territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas have overshadowed the just wrapped-up summits of Asia-Pacific leaders in Cambodia.
China’s territorial claims are represented on Chinese maps by a “nine-dash line” covering the South China Sea. Until recently, most regional governments had assumed the nine-dash line represented Beijing’s starting position for negotiations.
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, said a foreign media outlet.
“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 a Beijing-based diplomat.
China’s ministry of public security oversees the design and issuing of the new Chinese passports, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
“The map on the Chinese passport is not directed at any specific country,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement. “China is willing to actively communicate with the relevant countries.”
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 neighbors 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.