China has once again gotten under the skin of its neighbors — this time with a few offending strokes on a map, printed on its revised passports, that show Beijing staking its claim on the entire South China Sea, Taiwan and regions of contention between India and China.
An outline of China printed in the upper-left corner of the newly issued passports includes Taiwan, regions of India-China border dispute — Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) — and the whole of the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.
Though these contested regions have long been included in China’s official maps, the move to put them in its passports is seen as an act of provocation since it would leave other nations with no choice but to endorse the border claims by affixing their official stamps to the documents.
“We are not prepared to accept it," India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said Friday, the Times of India reported. "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 added.
In response, the Indian government has decided to stamp its own map on the visas it issues to the holders of the new Chinese passports containing the offending map, sources with knowledge of the dispute told Reuters.
There have been earlier instances when China stapled visas into the passports of residents of J&K, terming it as a "disputed territory," and denied visas to those hailing from Arunachal Pradesh.
The Philippines responded angrily to the new passports Thursday, saying the Chinese carrying the document would be violating the Philippine national sovereignty.
Taiwan — an island which has practically been independent since 1950 but still regarded by the Chinese government as a rebel region that must be reunited with the mainland — also condemned the map, saying it could provoke disputes.
“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 Taipei could not accept the map, the Associated Press reported.
However, Taiwan, which issues special travel documents to the Chinese nationals, does not recognize China’s passports in any case.
The Vietnamese government registered their protest by sending a diplomatic note to the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, demanding that Beijing remove the “erroneous content” printed on the passport.
China’s Foreign Ministry defended the map on its passports, which were being issued since May 15, saying it was not directed against any particular country.
“The design of this type of passports is not directed against any particular country,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily media briefing Friday, the AP reported. “We hope the relevant countries can calmly treat it with rationality and restraint so that the normal visits by the Chinese and foreigners will not be unnecessarily interfered with.”
The Economist, in a September report, accused India of being “more intolerant” than “either China or Pakistan” on the issue of disputed territorial claims, to warn its Indian readers that they might be “deprived” of a map it carries to illustrate the claims.
“Sadly India censors maps that show the current effective border, insisting instead that only its full territorial claims be shown. It is more intolerant on this issue than either China or Pakistan. Indian readers will probably be deprived of the map on the second page of this special report,” the Economist said.
“Tensions between India and China flare on occasion, especially along India's far north-eastern border, along the state of Arunachal Pradesh. In recent years Chinese officials have taken to calling part of the same area ‘South Tibet,’ to Indian fury, as that seems to imply a Chinese claim to the territory. A failure to agree the precise border, and then to demarcate it, ensures that future disagreements may flare again,” the report said. “Complicating matters, China has also extended its influence, and control, over portions of Kashmir, largely with the support of Pakistan, an ally.”