Big claims ... Chinese fishing boats sail in the lagoon of Meiji reef off the island province of Hainan in the South China Sea earlier this year. Photo: AP
Vietnam and the Philippines have criticised China's decision to include disputed South China Sea islands on maps printed inside new Chinese passports.
The Philippines "strongly protests" against China's decision to include the disputed maritime areas, its foreign affairs ministry spokesman, Raul Hernandez, said. Vietnam's government lodged a formal complaint with the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.
Three separate pages in the passports include China's so-called "nine-dash" map of the sea, first published in 1947, that extends hundreds of miles south from China's Hainan Island to the equatorial waters off the coast of Borneo. Vietnam and the Philippines reject the map as a basis for sharing oil, gas and fish in the waters.
"The action of China is contrary to the spirit of the declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea," Mr Hernandez said on Thursday.
The map includes the Spratly island chain, which is the subject of overlapping claims by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
China says the explorer Zheng He, whose sea adventures predate Christopher Columbus, crossed the South China Sea during the Ming Dynasty and cites historical maps that long predate the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. The Chinese Foreign Ministry website says the earliest discovery of the Spratlys, called Nansha in China and Troung Sa in Vietnam, can be traced back 2000 years to the Han dynasty.
"The outline of China's map in the passport wasn't targeted at specific countries," the foreign ministry said. "China is willing to communicate with relevant nations and promote the healthy development of contact between China and foreign personnels."
China should "reverse their incorrect prints" on the passports, said Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesman for Vietnam's foreign ministry.
"These actions by China have violated Vietnam's sovereignty to the Paracel and Spratly islands as well as our rights and jurisdiction to related maritime areas in the South China Sea, or East Sea," he said, using Vietnam's term for the area under dispute.
The maps in China's new passports didn't include islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China and Japan.