The online news portal of TV5
MANILA – Fresh from tense sessions at the ASEAN meetings in Cambodia this week, the Philippines and China are once more at loggerheads over a new issue: the design for China’s new ePassport, which includes maps of contested areas in the West Philippine Sea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday issued a note verbale against China to protest this new development. “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,” DFA chief Albert del Rosario said in a press briefing.
“The Philippines demanded that China respect the territory and maritime domain of the Philippines,” the foreign chief stressed.
The new Chinese ePassport contained images of the nine-dash line which DFA officials say “covers an area that is clearly part of the Philippine territory and maritime domain”.
The nine-dash-line encompasses the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Pratas Islands and Macclesfield Bank – all believed to hold vast resources of oil and mineral reserves.
Vietnam also made the same complaint against China, and said discussions between Hanoi and Beijing are under way.
“The action of China is contrary to the spirit of the DOC [Declaration on the Code of Conduct] in the SCS [South China Sea], particularly on the provision calling on parties to refrain from actions that complicate and escalate the dispute,” he added.
The DOC, signed in 2002 by China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), hopes to reduce political tensions and aims to ensure peace and stability in a region that links the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Besides the Philippines and Vietnam, two other ASEAN members, Malaysia and Brunei, have claims on parts of the same area. The other members of the bloc are Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
The non-binding agreement is supposedly the foundation of the Code of Conduct, which interested parties, including the United States, hope will govern the claimant-countries’ actions in the contested waters.
“The Philippines reiterates that the West Philippine Sea with the waters, islands, rocks and other maritime features and the continental shelf within the 200 nautical miles from the baselines, form an integral part of [the] Philippine territory and maritime jurisdiction,” del Rosario said.
The three-decade-old United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) bestows a country maritime jurisdiction over the 200-nautical mile waters of that country’s archipelagic baseline.
Islands disputed with Japan not included
China's new passports show a map including its claim to almost all the South China Sea, but it leaves out islands bitterly disputed with Japan.
China and Japan have also engaged in furious exchanges over East China Sea islands administered by Tokyo, which calls them Senkaku, and claimed by Beijing as Diaoyu. China saw mass protests over them nationwide in September.
The South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources.
The Paracel islands lie within it and have been held by China since it forced out South Vietnamese troops in 1974, but they are still claimed by Hanoi.
Some social media users in China said the maps had delayed them at Vietnamese immigration.
"I got into Vietnam after lots of twists and turns," said one user of China's hugely popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, saying an entry stamp was initially refused "because of the printed map of China's sea boundaries - which Vietnam does not recognise".
Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi told reporters Thursday that the Chinese documents amounted to a violation of Hanoi's sovereignty and it had protested to the embassy.
Officials handed Chinese representatives "a diplomatic note opposing the move, asking China to abolish the wrongful contents printed in these electronic passports", he said.
Other claimants to parts of the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Beijing attempted to downplay the diplomatic fallout from the recently introduced passports, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying the maps were "not made to target any specific country".
"We hope to maintain active communication with relevant countries and promote the healthy development of people to people exchanges," Hua Chunying added.
In Tokyo, a foreign ministry official said: "We have confirmed that disputed islands in South China Sea appear in a map printed on new Chinese passports.
"On the other hand, Senkaku doesn't. Therefore, we are not in a position to comment or complain."