India fights tit-for-tat on passport map

PAPERS CUT::The country is now stamping its own map on passports in response to Chinese passports claiming disputed territories. Taiwan has no plans to follow suit

AFP, NEW DELHI

Sun, Nov 25, 2012 - Page 1

India is stamping its map on visas given to Chinese visitors, an Indian official said yesterday, after China began issuing passports showing disputed territories as its own.

“We have started issuing visas with India’s map as we know it,” said a foreign ministry official, who did not wish to be named, declining to comment further.

India’s tit-for-tat action comes after China began issuing new biometric passports showing Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin — regions that New Delhi claims — as part of Chinese territory.

The response comes amid already strained ties between the two Asian giants. Beijing has also included disputed islands in the South China Sea in the map outline on the new passports, angering both the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as pictures of two of Taiwan’s most famous scenic spots.

Early this week, the Philippine foreign secretary wrote a protest note to the Chinese embassy and the Vietnamese government said it has also lodged objections with Beijing.

India’s the Hindu newspaper said the Indian government had decided not to take up the issue formally with China.

“It feels it will be better to speak through actions ... than words,” the newspaper quoted an unidentified government official as saying.

Beijing has 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.”

The disputed border between India and China has been the subject of 14 rounds of fruitless talks since 1962, when the two nations fought a brief, bloody war over the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

China’s build-up of military infrastructure along the frontier has become a major source of concern for India, which increasingly sees Beijing as a longer-term threat to its security than rival Pakistan.

India is also wary of increased Chinese activity in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which New Delhi sees as within its sphere of influence.

Similarly angered by China’s passport maps, the Vietnamese government has also responded with its own stamp to show it does not accept its northern neighbor’s claim to disputed islands and marine territories in the South China Sea.

At the country’s northern border crossings, Vietnamese authorities are stamping “Canceled” on the entry and exit approval stamps on the newly issued Chinese passports, replacing them with a new visa documentation paper attached to the outside of the passport.

As of yesterday afternoon, Vietnam’s Lao Cai Province, which borders Yunnan, China, had processed 111 new passport holders coming from China in this manner, Lao Cai Border Control and Defense Bureau Chief Tran Viet Huynh was reported as saying by the Tuoi Tre newspaper.

An official at a Vietnamese international checkpoint in Quang Ninh Province — bordering the Guangxi region of China — said that upon finding the Chinese passports’ map, they immediately initiated a new procedure of issuing a special entry permit for visitors from China.

According to the official, doing this meant the customs officers would not need to stamp their approval for the entry and exit of Chinese nationals.

A number of Chinese businesspeople in Vietnam said that holders of the new passports are required to fill in new entry applications at border controls, which takes more time, but Chinese nationals have otherwise not had any problems entering the country.

Hoan Viet, a researcher at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law, said for China to include nearly all of the South China Sea in its map “is a political issue and an external affairs issue.”

In Taipei, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Steve Hsia (夏季昌) said that the ministry currently has no plan to react to China’s passport stamps as India and Vietnam have done. Taiwanese immigration officials do not affix their official seals on Chinese passports because Chinese enter Taiwan with special travel documents, not passports, he said.

Additional reporting by Jason Pan, Staff Writer with CNA