Controversial Map on China’s Passport Angers Its Neighbors

China's territorial disputes with its neighbors are nothing new, but Beijing has found a new way to infuriate its neighbors with its latest passport for Chinese citizens.

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Ng Han Guan/AP

A man holds up a Chinese passport with dashes that include the South China Sea as part of Chinese territory outside a passport office in Beijing on Nov. 23, 2012

China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors are nothing new, but Beijing has found a new way to infuriate its neighbors with its latest passport for Chinese citizens. The new passports feature a map that gives China ownership of highly disputed territories in the South China Sea — prompting concerns among its neighbors that stamping the passport would be seen as tacit approval of China’s territorial claims.

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The map, which takes the form of a watermark on the passport’s visa pages, features a dotted line extending Chinese sovereignty out into the South China Sea, home of rich oil and gas reserves, to encompass several hotly disputed areas — not least of which is Taiwan, which China has considered to be a renegade province since the Chinese Revolution of 1949.

Taiwan immediately condemned China for its “ignorance of reality” over the passports. Vietnam insisted that Beijing remove the “erroneous” drawing, the Associated Press writes; refusing to give China the satisfaction of seeing its stamp on the disputed map, Vietnam announced that it will issue visas on separate papers, according to Voice of America.

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India, which has its own border disputes with China, found the new passports “unacceptable,” the Guardian reports. New Delhi has retaliated by stamping Chinese passports with a map of its own devising, claiming disputed areas of the India-China border — including the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and the disputed territory of Aksai Chin — as its own. The Guardian reports that India and China have tried to resolve the issue of the undemarcated region to no avail, even after 15 rounds of meetings.

Japan, which has feuded with China for decades over the Diaoyu Islands (Senkaku in Japanese), has stayed unusually quiet this time. According to the Financial Times, the Japanese government looked into the map controversy but decided to stay out of it. The islands in question are so tiny they cannot even be seen on the Chinese passport map.

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China’s response so far has essentially been that its neighbors should not take the offense personally. “The outline of China’s map in the passport wasn’t targeted at specific countries,” the Foreign Ministry said, according to Bloomberg. “China is willing to communicate with relevant nations and promote the healthy development of contact between China and foreign personnel.”

The affront has prompted Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines — four countries whose coastlines touch the South China Sea — to call a meeting in December to discuss the issue, the Associated Press reports.

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