ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh CityUpdated: November 29, 2012 10:02 PM GMT
An influential Vietnamese group has fiercely condemned China’s new electronic passport which features a map depicting the South China Sea's disputed waters as Chinese territory.
Anger has been growing since China started issuing the new microchip-equipped passport in May. Now the Philippines has joined Vietnam in refusing to stamp it when presented.
In a strongly worded statement released this week, the Vietnamese group said: “China’s deliberate provocation shows that it aims to invade the controversial sea, infringe the maritime sovereignty of relevant countries who have claims on the sea, and threaten peace and stability in the region.”
The statement is signed by 149 leading figures and intellectuals based in Vietnam and other countries. Among them are Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of Vinh diocese and vicar-general Father John Baptist Huynh Cong Minh of Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese.
The statement calls on China not to “separate ASEAN countries from having the same voice on East Sea [South China Sea] issues, or prevent them from approving a code of conduct” as a first step toward reducing tensions over the controversial waters.
It also invites Vietnamese people at home and abroad to show national unity by adding their names to it.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry has summoned diplomats from the Chinese embassy in Hanoi and asked them to pass on a formal request for the passport to be amended.
Vietnamese media outlets report that Lieutenant Colonel Tran Viet Huynh, head of the Lao Cai border gate in northern Vietnam which borders with China, has refused to validate 111 new Chinese passports which feature the contentious map.
Immigration officials in Lao Cai have been issuing visas as separate documents.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry added its voice to the dispute on Wednesday, saying that stamping the Chinese passport could be seen as “legitimizing” what it calls Beijing's “excessive” territorial claims.
It said that, like Vietnam, it will issue visas to holders of the new Chinese passport on a separate piece of paper. The ministry added that this move reinforces a formal protest letter sent to Beijing last week.
India has raised a separate objection to the Chinese map, which shows two Indian-controlled Himalayan regions as part of China. In retaliation, Indian authorities have been issuing visas to Chinese visitors that explicitly show an Indian version of the map of the disputed regions.
The US State Department has also added a comment. "We do have concerns about this map which is causing tension and anxiety between and among the states in the South China Sea," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing on Tuesday. "We do intend to raise this with the Chinese in terms of it not being helpful to the environment we all seek to resolve these issues."