US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has formally asked China to rethink its new passports, which include a map showing Taiwan and the South China Sea as Chinese territory.
“We’re obviously joining the chorus of countries who are urging the Chinese to reconsider the political signal that this appears to send,” US Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing on Thursday.
The US has held two meetings with China — both of them at the Department of State’s Washington offices — and remains unsatisfied with Beijing’s responses.
Asked if US concerns had not been assuaged, Nuland said: “Correct.”
Nuland, pressed to give details of the meetings, said: “We have been raising this passport issue over the last couple of days.”
“It obviously applies not only to the South China Sea, but the Indian side has expressed concerns about some of their territory being chopped into this map. So, the conversation is about all of it,” she said.
On Wednesday, a deputy assistant secretary of state spoke to the Chinese about the new passport map and it was after that meeting apparently led nowhere that Campbell became involved on Thursday.
Nuland said she did not think that any of the countries involved in the dispute had actually asked Washington for help on the issue.
“But obviously we have concerns if they have concerns,” she said.
Nuland said the US was concerned that the issue might raise tensions in the region “so that’s the context in which we’re bringing it up with the Chinese.”
Taiwan has joined a number of governments in the region in criticizing Beijing for including the map — as well as pictures of Taiwanese beauty spots Nantou’s Sun Moon Lake and Hualien’s Chingshui Cliffs — in the new passports. Parts of the South China Sea claimed by China on the map are also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The new passports are seen as a provocation because when other nations stamp them it could be taken as a tacit endorsement of China’s territorial claims.
In her briefing, Nuland referred to a statement made earlier this week by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊).
“The picture on the passport should not be overinterpreted,” Hong said. “China is ready to maintain communication with relevant countries and promote the sound development of personnel exchanges.”
Nuland was also asked during her briefing about reports that Hainan Province had authorized border patrol police to board and turn away foreign ships entering disputed waters in the South China Sea.
“We’ve seen the same press reports that you have seen,” she said. “We are going to be asking some questions of the Chinese government about this, frankly, to get a better understanding of what they intend,” she said.