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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 6:50PM) – The Philippines will no longer stamp visas on the controversial new Chinese passports that feature the 9-dash line map including disputed territory. Instead, it will follow the example of Vietnam, which stamps visas on a separate application form to be given to Chinese travellers, in a bid to avoid signaling assent to China’s maritime claims.
Vietnam and the Philippines were the first to protest the design of China’s new microchipped passport, followed by Taiwan and India. Even the United States expressed concern over the matter and said it would tackle this with Beijing.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, the Philippine government amended an earlier announcement it issued, that said it would leave the matter as is, pending the recommendation of an interagency panel formed to study the implications of the Chinese e-passport.
In recent days, despite the note verbale Manila sent to Beijing to protest the new passport design, the seven consular offices of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spread across China had been stamping visas on the new passports of Chinese citizens seeking to travel to Manila.
However, the latest statement from Manila on Wednesday said:
“Further to the Philippine protest against the inclusion of the 9-dash line map in the Chinese e-passport which covers an area that is part of the Philippine territory and maritime domain, the Philippines will no longer stamp its visas on the Chinese e-passport. Instead, the Philippines will stamp it on a separate visa application form.
“This action is being undertaken to avoid the Philippines being misconstrued as legitimizing the 9-dash line every time a Philippine visa is stamped on such Chinese e-passport.
“Through this action, the Philippines reinforces its protest against China’s excessive claim over almost the entire South China Sea including the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines views said expansive 9-dash claim as inconsistent with international law, specifically UNCLOS.
“We are preparing for an early implementation of the aforementioned action.”
‘Don’t read too much into passport’
Also on Wednesday, China said that people should not read too much into the placement of a new map in its passports that depicts claims to disputed maritime territory, after the United States said it would raise concerns with Beijing over the issue.
The Philippines and Vietnam have condemned the new microchip-equipped passports, saying the map they incorporate violates their national sovereignty by marking disputed waters as Chinese territory.
India, which also claims two Himalayan regions shown as Chinese territory on the map, is responding by issuing visas stamped with its own version of the borders.
"The aim of China's new electronic passports is to strengthen its technological abilities and make it convenient for Chinese citizens to enter or leave the country," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.
"The issue of the maps in China's new passports should not be read too much into. China is willing to remain in touch with relevant countries and promote the healthy development of the exchange of people between China and the outside world."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States had concerns about China's map causing "tension and anxiety" between countries in the South China Sea.
The United States, which has urged China and its Southeast Asian neighbors to agree on a code of conduct as a first step toward reducing tensions over the South China Sea, will continue to accept the new Chinese passports because they meet the standards of a legal travel document.
Pending the outcome of an interagency committee's deliberations on the new Chinese e-passport with the controversial nine-dash map design, the seven Philippine diplomatic posts in China have continued processing an average of 124 Chinese passports every day, it was learned Wednesday.
The figure is taken from the records of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of Consular Affairs, which oversees the release of Philippine visas and passports around the world, including the one embassy in Beijing and the six consulates in Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, and Xiamen.
Earlier Palace policy
The DFA policy to continue processing the Chinese passports despite Manila’s pending protest over the design is apparently part of Malacanang’s marching orders earlier, as presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda sent notice the Philippine government will recognize e-passports of Chinese nations containing a map that includes disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.
It is not fair, he added, for Manila to begrudge the ordinary Chinese passport holder the possession of such travel document, the controversy over the map design notwithstanding.
But things may change, said Lacierda, once an inter-agency task force headed by the Department of Foreign Affairs submits its recommendation to Malacañang on what to do with what has been observed as a provocative move of the Chinese government.
Manila’s note verbale, Vietnam’s separate visa stamp
With a note verbale, the Philippines has protested China’s printing on its new e-passport of its map that includes the disputed territories on the waters southeast of China and west of the Philippines. "We strongly protested the inclusion of the nine-dash lines in the e-passports as such image covers an area that is an integral part of the Philippine territory and maritime domain," DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
Other countries like the United States, India, and Vietnam have protested the move. But Vietnam, which together with the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia is also a claimant to some of the rock formations in that body of water, took a firmer action.
In protest, Vietnam stamps its visas not on the controversial Chinese passport, but on a separate sheet of paper, so as not to give in any way its assent to the protested Chinese map, according to a DFA official who is batting for similar action. The DFA official requested anonymity as he does not have the authority to speak in behalf of the agency.
Earlier, DFA spokesman Hernandez said an inter-agency task force has been created to study alternative actions. But he could not give the names of the members of the task force or the date when it would release its recommendations.
“Interagency committee is finalizing its consultations and will come out with its recommendations very soon,” he said in a text message.
“Concerned agencies (are those) which have to do with entry and exit of foreigners. Until new procedure is affected, status quo remains,” he added upon prodding.
The expanded Chinese map on its e-passport has been the latest wrinkle in the continuing diplomatic dispute over the resource-rich waters. In April, Chinese fishermen were caught harvesting endangered maritime species on Scarborough Shoal, which is some 120 nautical miles off the province of Zambales. This incident sparked a standoff that lasted until June when the typhoon forced the ships of both countries out of the area.
Last week, DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario said three Chinese government (although not military) ships were still hovering near the shoal, which is known as Panatag to the Philippines and Huangyan to the Chinese.
Palace makes clear policy
"The Department of Foreign Affairs will recognize the passports. You cannot begrudge the citizen because of his or her passport so our Immigration officials will respect their passports," Lacierda said in a press briefing aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
"Our position does not change just because of a map that the Chinese placed in their passports. We see no reason why it should weaken our position," Lacierda added.
Chinese tourists, as well as many businessmen and students from the mainland, are among the top foreign visitors to the Philippines. With reports by Veronica Uy and Dexter San Pedro