‘Aim of new electronic passports is to make it convenient for Chinese citizens to enter or leave country’

The Chinese government on Wednesday said its neighbours “should not read too much” into the inclusion of a map in recently issued passports, after the move, this past week, sparked strong reactions in India, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The new electronic chip-fitted passport contains the outline of a map in its pages, which shows Aksai Chin, Arunachal Pradesh, and the disputed islands and waters of the South China Sea as Chinese territory.

India has said it would respond to the move by issuing new visas at its Embassy in Beijing that would include a map with boundaries as seen by India. While Vietnam has said it would only issue stapled visas to Chinese applicants because it cannot stamp visas in the passports – which the government said, would be seen as ratifying Chinese claims – the Philippines lodged a strong diplomatic protest.

While Chinese officials said the new passports were issued in May, the move came to light last week after objections voiced by Vietnam and the Philippines. The Foreign Ministry has since tried to play down the move, in a suggestion that it was caught off guard by the strong responses.

On Monday, the Ministry declined to respond to questions from The Hindu on whether China would accept the new Indian visas. However, sources said Beijing had, so far, not raised objections and was allowing citizens to travel to India on them.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters on Wednesday that the “issue of the maps in China's new passports should not be read too much into.” “The aim of China's new electronic passports is to strengthen its technological abilities and make it convenient for Chinese citizens to enter or leave the country,” he said at a regular press briefing, reported Reuters. “The issue of the maps in China's new passports should not be read too much into. China is willing to remain in touch with relevant countries and promote the healthy development of the exchange of people between China and the outside world.”

Maritime cooperation

Separately on Wednesday, the Global Times, a tabloid known for its nationalistic views published by the Communist Party's official People’s Daily newspaper, published a commentary written by Wang Xinlong, a scholar at Tianjin Normal University, calling for India and China to boost maritime cooperation considering their common interests in “security of international shipping lanes, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, marine search and rescue, peacekeeping, and oceanic environmental protection.”

With China increasingly dispatching its ships on anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean Region and the Indian Navy conducting exercises in the South China Sea, both countries had a “relationship that can shape the security environment in the whole Indo-Pacific region,” he said. Chinese analysts rarely use the term “Indo-Pacific,” indicating their general reluctance to recognise India as a player in the Asia-Pacific region.

On Wednesday, the Communist Party of China’s International Department organised a conference on “security and development in the Asia-Pacific region” in the context of the leadership transition in China, bringing together strategic experts and former diplomats from 22 countries. Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, the Director General of the Indian Council of World Affairs and the only representative from India, said he had made the point that security and development in the Indian and Pacific Oceans were interlinked.

With growing anxieties in many of China's neighbours about assertiveness from Beijing in a number of disputes, Mr. Bhatia said several of the Chinese delegates “took a sober position saying that if there are some misperceptions about China, the Chinese side should factor them in and try to address them,” in a suggestion that China might look to do more to assuage concerns about its rise as a new leadership takes over.

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