China stamps passports with sea claims

Posted on November 22, 2012

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German anti-Nazi theologian, Martin Neimöller:
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Beijing has included its South China Sea territorial claims on maps printed inside new Chinese passports, infuriating at least one of its neighbours.

>> Philippines Protests Depiction of Disputed Islands on New Chinese Passports
>> ASEAN Secretary-General Defends Bloc, Despite Maritime Dispute

U.S. President Barack Obama (5th L) participates in a family photo with ASEAN leaders during the ASEAN Summit at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, November 19, 2012.

Vietnam has 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 recognise Chinese claims every time a Chinese citizen is given a visa or an entry or exit stamp in one of the new passports.

(Read More: South China Sea’s ‘Troubled Waters’ Complicate Oil Exploration Efforts)

The Philippines embassy in Beijing has not responded to requests for comment.

The territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas have overshadowed a series of summits of Asia-Pacific leaders in Cambodia attended by US President Barack Obama this week, with discord among southeast Asian nations over how to respond to an increasingly assertive China.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, including large swaths of territory that smaller neighbouring countries say belongs to them, and Beijing has been increasingly strident in recent years in asserting those claims.

The claims are represented on Chinese maps by a “nine-dash line” that incorporates the entire South China Sea and hugs the coastline of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and a small part of Indonesia.

(Read More: Japan Economy to Contract as China Dispute Bites)

The nine dashes enclose a region that is believed to be rich in undersea energy reserves and also incorporate the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory. Until recently, most regional governments had assumed the nine-dash line represented Beijing’s starting position for negotiations.

China undermined that view in June when CNOOC [0883.HK  16.38    0.08 (+0.49%)], a state oil company, invited foreign groups to tender for exploration rights in an area close to Vietnam’s shoreline which Hanoi had already licensed to America’s ExxonMobil [XOM  88.01    0.51  (+0.58%)] and Russia’s Gazprom.

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.

“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 one senior Beijing-based diplomat who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “If Beijing were to change its position later it would have to recall all those passports.”

China’s ministry of public security oversees the design and issuing of the new Chinese passports, according to an official at the Chinese foreign ministry who declined to comment further. As well as the controversial map, the passports also include pictures of scenic spots in China, as well as two popular tourist destinations on Taiwan.

(Read More: Beijing Hopes to Cash In Taiwanese Public Support)

“The map on the Chinese passport is not directed at any specific country,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement to the FT on Wednesday. “China is willing to actively communicate with the relevant countries.”

Since 2010 China has taken a far more strident stance on its territorial claims in the South China Sea, as well as in the East China Sea, where it claims the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese, as its own territory.

The Japanese government has also paid close attention to the new Chinese passports but the scale of the map is so small that the islands are not visible and Tokyo has not raised the issue with Beijing, according to diplomats familiar with the matter.

The Chinese government began issuing the new passports, which include electronic chips for the first time, about five months ago.

“I think it’s one very poisonous step by Beijing among their thousands of malevolent actions,” said Nguyen Quang A, a former adviser to the Vietnamese government. “When Chinese people visit Vietnam we have to accept it and place a stamp on their passports . . . Everyone in the world must raise their voices now, not just the Vietnamese people.”

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 neighbours 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.

(Read More: China Slowdown Takes a Toll on Asian Trade Partners)

The Taiwanese government told the FT it had “noticed” the new passports but had not filed a formal complaint with Beijing.

“The mainland should face the reality of the Republic of China’s existence and our established foundation,” Taiwan’s mainland affairs council said. “We should put aside disputes and face the reality and work together towards peaceful and stable development across the Taiwan Strait.”

 F.T.

Philippines protests China’s e-Passport with image of disputed sea

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday announced that it had handed a note verbale to the Chinese embassy in Manila signifying the country’s protest against China’s decision to imprint the image of its nine-dash sea claims to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in the pages of its new e-Passports.

Reading the notes from the note verbale, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said that China’s latest move was a violation of the provision on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) stating that all parties should refrain from actions that complicate and escalate the dispute.

“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. 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,” Del Rosario said.

“The Philippines demands that China respect the territory and maritime domain of the Philippines,” Del Rosario added.

International news organization Financial Times reported China’s latest move after the territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas were discussed in a series of summits of Asia-Pacific leaders in Cambodia last week.  The 10-member bloc concluded its annual summit on Monday without reaching any consensus on the maritime disputes.

China had insisted that it has sovereignty over nearly the entire sea, to which the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan have overlapping competing claims.

The Philippines and China had been disputing over certain isles and reefs in the vicinity of the Spratly chain, as well as over the Scarborough shoal, that fall within the former’s 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and conflict with the latter’s nine-dash claim.

Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, DFA spokesperson, in an interview with the media, noted that the country could not allow Chinese nationals to use that passport carrying China’s sea map because that would mean “acquiescence to their claim…which we believe is excessive and is in violation of our territorial sovereignty.”

“We are asking China to respect our territorial sovereignty our EEZ and maritime domain in that area and as the President has stated, we want them to withdraw from Bajo de Masinloc,” Hernandez added.

Vietnam had earlier lodged a protest against China’s move.

Global Nation

ASEAN Remains Divided On COC

Indonesia’s top diplomats miscalculated the country’s leverage against other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China when they pushed for a discussion of a code of conduct for the South China Sea during their recent summit in Cambodia, experts say.

ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have claims to parts of the sea, but China insists it has sovereign rights to virtually the entire body of water.

Indonesia has repeatedly vowed to push for the creation of the COC before the just-completed summit in Phnom Penh, with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono stating on several occasions that all ASEAN countries and China should agree on a legally binding COC to reduce tension and prevent countries from using force to settle their differences.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa had also showed optimism that Indonesia’s leadership in Southeast Asia could persuade China and the ASEAN nations to cooperate.

But the Phnom Penh summit revealed that neither China nor the ASEAN claimants listened to what Indonesia had to say.

“While we had good intentions, we have to be realistic,” said Aleksius Jemadu, dean of Pelita Harapan University’s School of Political and Social Sciences. “Indonesia has overestimated its influence and miscalculated China’s intentions.”

“Indonesia thought it could persuade China to accept the code of conduct it proposed because both countries had very good relations in many sectors, with Indonesia becoming China’s biggest market and investment destination in Southeast Asia,” Aleksius added.

“But we were wrong. We’re facing a bigger and proud nation.”

“While we do have influence, it counts little when it comes to territorial disputes and strategic issues. China will never agree on discussing the South China Sea it claims as its own in a multilateral meeting. It will never want to internationalize the issue.”

Aleksius also said China will continue to insist on dealing with other claimants through bilateral talks, while ASEAN members, especially the Philippines, wanted to bring it to a multilateral level with the hope of getting support from the United States.

Indonesia apparently has also failed in uniting ASEAN members to come up with a single stance on the South China Sea.

Representatives of the Philippines and Cambodia even got involved in a heated disagreement on the issue.

Cambodia, the host of the summit and current chair of ASEAN, has been acting as a China proxy, observers have said, as it has received billions of dollars in loans and aid from its giant neighbor.

“Each of the ASEAN members has its own interests, preventing unity on the South China Sea issue,” said Bantarto Bandoro, an international relations expert at the Indonesian Defense University. “Indonesia should have known about this.”

The International Herald Tribune on Tuesday reported that ASEAN members could not even agree to set up a crisis hotline to quickly settle misunderstandings on the territorial disputes, as proposed by Indonesia. The paper pointed out that bitter enemies like South Korea and North Korea have three crisis hotlines to avoid the escalation of conflicts.

At the summit, Indonesia proposed the creation of a regional hotline as a practical, real-world safeguard while a formal COC is being hashed out.

Marty said that “in the future, should there be any incident of the type that we had [like the China-Philippines standoff at the Scarborough Shoal], the ministers should be able to quickly pick up the phone and establish communication.”

Without a hotline, the Indonesian minister said, “the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation is bigger.”

Marty added that he got the general sense from other ASEAN members that the hotline could be “something important” but no action was taken to establish the line during the summit.

Jakarta Post

South China Sea Dispute Remains Problem for ASEAN

PHN — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] emerged from a key leader summit Tuesday with progress on potential trade alliances and the economy. It still appeared divided, though, on what continues to be a controversial issue: the South China Sea and multiple countries claiming territorial ownership.

Going into this week’s leaders summit, ASEAN members had hoped for a resounding show of unity following explosive meetings in July that exposed divisions through the 10-member bloc.

By the end of the summit Tuesday, ASEAN members were claiming some degree of progress on the South China Sea dispute. But the final day of meetings also showed the regional bloc is far from united on the issue.

Philippines take issue

The Philippines, ASEAN’s most outspoken claimant, still objected to how the bloc’s chair, Cambodia, had declared that leaders agreed not to “internationalize” the maritime dispute.

Albert del Rosario is the Philippines’ foreign affairs secretary.

“We think that it is the inherent right of any sovereign country to be able to protect its national interest. So that’s the position we have taken,” he said. “As far as we are concerned, the rules on consensus means everyone must be on board. Obviously we’re not on board, so there is no consensus.”

China flexes muscle

Four ASEAN countries claim parts of the energy-rich sea. But it is China’s large claim over the sea that has caused disagreements within ASEAN. China in the past has not wanted ASEAN involvement in negotiations concerning the South China Sea.

In July, Cambodia was accused of siding with China on the issue. Any thoughts of a repeat of another public meltdown to end the meetings were quashed Tuesday, however, when Cambodia released a watered down chairman’s statement summarizing the week’s discussions.

“On the issue of the South China Sea, ASEAN leaders agreed to continue to address this issue in the existing ASEAN-China framework,” said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, speaking through an interpreter.

Officals stress unity

ASEAN officials also were downplaying any disagreements on the issue.

“I think it’s a matter of interpretation,” said Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN’s secretary general. “As far as I am concerned there is a consensus that we would like to pursue the issue without having it affecting other constructive, other positive momentum that we are trying to create, that we have achieved here so that we can look into the future. We can look into the horizon that a lot of potentials must be harvested for all of us now. If the interpretation would obstruct my rights to pursue my interest into the future through other channels that was not it was meant. It meant that you have all the rights whatever member state but here we are trying to pursue it within the framework of cooperation, framework of coordination and we will be conscious of the fact that we have a larger agenda up in front of us.”

Consensus or not, ASEAN says there is a renewed commitment to implementing a decade-old Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, known as a DOC – a broad pledge to resolve the matter through peaceful means.

But the bloc appears no closer to actually solving the territorial dispute. With the conclusion of another leaders’ meeting, countries are still unable to peg a timeline to begin negotiations on a long-elusive Code of Conduct [COC], that might settle the dispute.

VOA

Wen Jiabao adamant on South China Sea claim

Phnom Penh: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has made a strong defence of his country’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea after a summit of world leaders ended in bitter disagreement over how to ease tensions in the strategic and resource-rich waterways.

“China’s act of defending its sovereignty is necessary and legitimate … and we have properly handled the incidents that were not of the making of China,” Mr Wen told 17 other leaders on the final day of the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, according to Chinese vice foreign minister Fu Ying.

US president Barack Obama told the leaders to rein in tensions over the disputed territory, but stopped short of firmly backing smaller Asian nations in their disputes with China.

“President Obama’s message is there needs to be a reduction of the tensions,” top US security official Ben Rhodes told journalists.

“There is no reason to risk any potential escalation, particularly when you have two of the world’s largest economies — China and Japan — associated with some of those disputes,” Mr Rhodes said.

The decades-old disputes overshadowed the final phase of Mr Obama’s whirlwind three-day trip to Thailand, Burma and Cambodia, which aimed to reinforce his administration’s commitment to engage more deeply in Asia and the Pacific.

A statement by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen at the end of the summit did not make any mention of the South China Sea. This would have pleased China, which insisted the disputes stay off the summit’s formal agenda.

But several leaders had raised the issue, including mentioning a tense stand-off between Chinese and Philippine ships at Scarborough Shoal, off the Philippine coast, earlier this year.

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, who attended the summit, later described exchanges as “frank”. She said Australia was not taking sides in the disputes, but wanted to see a peaceful resolution.

The issue has caused deep division in the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations, whose member states are supposed to make decisions by consensus.

In a tense moment on Monday, Philippine president Benigno Aquino challenged Mr Hun Sen, who had tried to cut off a discussion about the disputes.

A Singapore government official said an early draft of Mr Hun Sen’s statement had misquoted leaders’ discussions and that Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam had complained about it.

China wants to negotiate directly with other claimants to the disputed territory, insisting the disputes be kept away from multilateral forums like the summit or ASEAN.

While China claims almost all of the territory, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts.

Mr Hun Sen, a close ally of China, refused to take questions on the issue at a press conference at the end of the summit, saying he was too tired.

The inability of ASEAN to agree on efforts to resolve the disputes comes as the group tackles an ambitious plan to turn the region of 600 million people into an EU-like community by the end of 2015.

The South China Sea is crossed by half of the world’s total trade and is important for shipping Australian goods. Ms Gillard is flying home from Cambodia on Wednesday.

SMH

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