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China passports inspire territorial flap in Asia

They feature an outline of the country that includes areas claimed by other nations, which will have to stamp the documents for Chinese visitors.

November 25, 2012|By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times
  • An Indian soldier patrols at the Chinese border. India has begun stamping its own map on visas presented by Chinese nationals, in response to new passports from China with a map that includes disputed terrain.
An Indian soldier patrols at the Chinese border. India has begun stamping… (Biju Boro / AFP/Getty Images )

BEIJING — China is staking its claim on paper to what neighbors say is rightfully theirs.

The latest territorial flap in Asia is over new Chinese passports with an outline of China that includes swaths of the South China Sea that are claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as all of Taiwan and disputed territory on the border with India.

Beijing's vision of a greater China is nothing new. The disputed territories are included in official Chinese maps. But putting it on passports takes the dispute to another level. Countries will have to stamp them when Chinese nationals go through immigration, which could be regarded as a symbolic endorsement of China's border claims.

India is responding map for map. It is beginning to stamp its own version of the map in visas issued to Chinese who present the offending passport. The Indian newspaper the Hindu reported that New Delhi decided to respond with its own map rather than lodge a formal diplomatic protest.

The Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have complained about the new passports, which show not only an outline of China but also a dashed, U-shaped line extending into the South China Sea.

The passports, which have an electronic chip, have been issued since May 15, but only in recent days did protests crop up about the map, which is inside the passport and printed in faint blue ink.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters Friday in Manila that the line extends into an area that is "clearly part of the Philippines' territory and maritime domain."

Chinese state media reported Saturday that Vietnam was refusing to stamp the passports, instead admitting Chinese visitors whose passports show the map by stamping a separate piece of paper.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China was not targeting any country.

"China is willing to communicate with the relevant countries, and continue promoting contact and healthy development with foreign personnel," she said.

Over the last two years, China's neighbors have protested Beijing's increasingly assertive claims to disputed waters that are potentially rich with oil and gas. Chinese and Philippine ships sparred earlier this year off the Philippine coast near what is known as Scarborough Shoal.

barbara.demick@latimes.com

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