(UPDATED) MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines protested on Thursday, November 22 the decision of China to print on its new e-passport the image of the controversial 9-Dash line showing its claim over virtually the whole South China Sea, contested by the Philippines among other countries.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sent a verbal note regarding the issue to the Chinese Embassy in Manila read to the media by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
“The Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the 9 dash line in the e passport as such image covers an area clearly part of the Philippines’ territory and maritime domain,” the verbal note said.
In diplomatic language, a verbal note is an unsigned communication considered less formal than a note but stronger than a memorandum.
9-Dash line ‘not valid’
The 9-Dash or U-Shaped line is used by China and Taiwan to claim a vast area of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) including the Paracel Islands — occupied by China but claimed by Vietnam — and the Spratly Islands, also disputed by Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam apart from Taiwan.
However, the DFA stressed in the verbal note that “the Philippines does not accept the validity of the 9-Dash line, that amounts to an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law.”
“The Philippines demands that China respect the territory and maritime domain of the Philippines. The action of China is contrary to the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, particularly on the provision calling on parties to refrain from actions that complicate the dispute,” the diplomatic communication added.
Finally, the verbal noted reiterated that “the waters, islands, rocks, and other maritime features and continental shelf within the 200 nautical miles from the baselines form an integral part of the territory and maritime jurisdiction” of the West Philippine Sea.
Reactions in Vietnam, China
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.
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.
China, Taiwan studying legal claim
Chinese and Taiwanese scholars are currently studying borderlines based on the 9-Dash line in order to come up with a definitive legal and historical claim to the region in one year.
The study group, commissioned by China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies, is so far not considering other countries as legitimate claimants.
According to China, the 9-Dash demarcation line first appeared in 1948, before Mao Zedong’s Communist Party ousted Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang from power and the People’s Republic of China was established.
The borderline is rejected by four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The vice foreign ministers of these four countries are set to meet in December in Manila to discuss a multilateral approach to their overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
China – which insists on only bilateral negotiations — and Taiwan have not been invited. – Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse