Chinese boats patrol the Paracel chain, part of the disputed territory in the South China Sea. China established a new military garrison this July to protect the island, but their claim has no basis in international accords.
Credit: STR

China is drawing criticism from its neighbors for printing maps inside its new passports that include territory in the South China Sea that other countries claim as their own.

The maps feature a “nine-dash line” that designates the entire South China Sea up to the coastline of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and a small part of Indonesia as Chinese territory, the Financial Times reported. The maps do not show islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both China and Japan.

According to the Financial Times:

Countries that have clashed with China over its assertions in the South China Sea, in particular the Philippines, are … 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.

“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,” one Beijing-based diplomat told the Financial Times. “If Beijing were to change its position later it would have to recall all those passports.”

The new passports, which include electronic chips, were introduced about five months ago, according to the Financial Times.

Both Vietnam and the Philippines formally protested the maps this week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“The Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash lines in the e-passport as such image covers an area that is clearly part of the Philippines’ territory and maritime domain,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a note verbale sent to the Chinese embassy in Manila on Wednesday, the Manila Bulletin reported. “The Philippines does not accept the validity of the nine-dash lines that amount to an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law.”

"These actions by China have violated Vietnam's sovereignty to the Paracel and Spratly islands as well as our rights and jurisdiction to related maritime areas in the South China Sea, or East Sea," Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesman for Vietnam's foreign ministry, told the Sydney Morning Herald, using Vietnam's name for the area. China should "reverse their incorrect prints" on the passports, he added.

"The outline of China's map in the passport wasn't targeted at specific countries," China’s foreign ministry said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. "China is willing to communicate with relevant nations and promote the healthy development of contact between China and foreign personnels."

More from GlobalPost: Why all the fuss in the South China Sea?

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