The Philippines on Thursday protested China’s inclusion of a map of the entire West Philippine Sea (also called South China Sea) in its new electronic passports, calling it “unacceptable” and an infringement on the country's sovereignty.
In its boldest assertion to date, Beijing released a new batch of e-passports bearing the map of the disputed area, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims on several territories but is being owned by China in its entirety.
“The Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash lines in the e-passport as such image covers an area that is clearly part of the Philippines’ territory and maritime domain,” said Manila’s note verbale or diplomatic note to China which was read by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to the media.
Claimants have been locked in decades of disputes over mostly barren but potentially resource-rich waters in the West Philippine Sea.
China, Vietnam and the Philippines have particularly figured in separate fresh altercations last year and this year that have sparked Asian and international concerns over a possible major armed clash that could threaten access to and the passage of commercial and cargo ships in the busy waters.
“The Philippines does not accept the validity of the nine-dash lines that amount to an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law,” Del Rosario continued, referring to China’s U-shaped nine-dotted line claim that covers most of the sea.
Philippine officials transmitted its protest to the Chinese Embassy in Manila on Wednesday.
“We are expecting a reply soon,” said Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez when asked if Manila would ask Beijing to recall the passports.
Vietnam, another claimant, has already complained about the new passports.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila has not yet returned GMA News Online's request for a reaction as of this posting.
In its protest, Manila accused China of violating a non-aggression pact that Beijing signed with the Association of South East Asian Nations which calls on all claimants “to refrain from actions that complicate and escalate the dispute.”
“The Philippines demands that China respect the territory and maritime domain of the Philippines,” the protest letter said.
It also reiterated that the West Philippine Sea including “the waters, islands, rocks and other maritime features in its continental shelf within the 200-nautical mile from the baselines form an integral part of the Philippine territory and maritime jurisdiction.”
Manila has long considered elevating its disputes with China to a mediation body in the United Nations.
The Philippines can not just ignore China's action, Hernandez said, noting that allowing Beijing to continue issuing the said passport with a map that violates the country's sovereignty would mean submission to Beijing’s claim.
“The passport will be used by Chinese nationals and if they carry that kind of map that violates our sovereignty and if we allow that then it would mean acquiescence to their claim of the whole of South China Sea,” Hernandez said.
"Our Constitution says we have to protect our sovereignty and we owe it to our nation to do so," he said. — RSJ/KG, GMA News