Nov. 28 – China’s new passports, issued to PRC nationals traveling overseas, have included within them maps showing “Chinese” territories – which include disputed areas currently also claimed by India, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines. The disputed areas include the entire Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh as well as Aksai Chin, a disputed area in the Himalayas patrolled by both Indian and Pakistani troops, in addition to a huge area of the South China Sea defined by the Chinese-derived controversial nine-dashed line. This includes UN designated international waters and also islands and reefs claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as Taiwan.
In issuing these documents to Chinese nationals, China is ramping up the claim issue with its neighbors. In India, for example, it is a criminal offense to display maps showing Indian-claimed territory as belonging to either China or Pakistan. The situation is causing some diplomatic ruffling of feathers, and it remains to be seen how this situation will play out. At one extreme, the nations involved could refuse to recognize Chinese passports featuring these maps. To date, India is playing the same diplomacy and is now issuing paper-only visas to India for Chinese citizens, with the Indian version of the map on it. These visas are being placed and stuck over the pages in the Chinese passport that show the offending version. The passport itself is not stamped and therefore not officially recognized. The Indian paper is removed once the Chinese national leaves Indian territory.
Vietnam meanwhile has gone a step further and has refused point blank to validate any of the new Chinese passports, meaning Chinese nationals using them cannot enter Vietnam on their passports, but have to use a separate piece of paper to do so. The Philippines and Taiwan have both condemned the new Chinese passports but are yet to take any actions concerning their presentation at their border controls.
The issues concerning visas issued on detachable paper rather than in actual passports for travelers can be problematic. It means that the country gives “concessionary” permission to visit, not official permission or protection as issued to travelers having their passport stamped. It could, in the event of any sort of problems arising within the issuing nation, cause serious issues for the national carrying such a document and not a stamped passport. Medical treatment, in the case of an emergency; diplomatic situations where consular assistance may be required; or even simple matters such as booking hotel rooms or changing currency could all arise. Problems in cases that involve local police or other local authorities could also rapidly become problematic. Additionally, should the paper document be lost, serious issues at immigration when leaving the country would arise, as there would be no existing official paper trail and passport registration to define a visit.
Should this current situation continue, such problems may start to develop, resulting in Chinese nationals traveling to these countries being adversely affected. It may also affect the ability of Chinese nationals to properly operate their subsidiaries in these countries and has the potential to impact upon bilateral trade figures, which have been steadily improving over the past year at rates of up to 35 percent.