PASSPORT DIPLOMACY

Vietnamese officials allegedly F-bombed a Chinese passport showing the South China Sea

Obsession
Borders
Obsession
Borders

In 2012 China introduced controversial new passports. On some pages, the passports featured a map that suggested contested bits of territory were its own, among them most of the South China Sea. The new design prompted border control officials in various nations, including India and Vietnam, to avoid stamping the passports, lest the act seemed to legitimize China’s territorial claims. Vietnam began stamping separate pieces of paper, and then attaching those to passport pages.

On July 23, Vietnamese immigration staff allegedly went a step further, scribbling “f**k you” on the pages of a Chinese woman’s passport. Yesterday (July 27) the Chinese consulate in Ho Chi Minh City reported on the incident (link in Chinese):

It was a cowardly, shameful action that harms Chinese citizens’ national honor and dignity. We are angry, and we scorn and condemn such actions. We requested that Vietnam launch an investigation, punish the related parties, and make sure no such thing happens again. Vietnam has agreed to conduct an investigation.”

The vulgarity purportedly written by Vietnam’s border control staff. (Beijing News)

Here’s the story being circulated in Chinese media: Zhong flew from Guangzhou to Ho Chi Minh City on the morning of July 23. When she got her passport back from the immigration staff, she found the vulgarity scribbled on pages 8 and 24. Those pages show a lightly printed dashed-line map encircling most of the South China Sea.

Chinese media widely reported on the incident, and the articles generated thousands of comments (link in Chinese), most expressing anger toward Vietnam. Zhong told Beijing News (link in Chinese) that she felt humiliated disappointed.

On the social media platform Weibo, the news became a trending theme (link in Chinese, registration required), attracting more than 1.8 million visits. Some Weibo users proposed (link in Chinese) no longer visiting Vietnam. One said, “If the kid is naughty, then we will beat it.” Some criticized the Chinese government for “condemning without actually doing anything.”

Vietnam has long protested the “nine-dash line,” which China drew on a map after World War 2 and uses to justify its expansive claims. Newer Chinese maps (including those on the passports) have a 10-dash line, with one being added east of Taiwan.

On July 12 an international tribunal invalidated China’s dashed-line claims in a 500-page ruling. Vietnam welcomed the ruling the day it came out. It contends the Paracel Islands off its coast, currently occupied by China, are its territory. And in 2012 it protested the China National Offshore Oil Corporation inviting foreign companies to bid for oil exploration blocks falling well within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.

Beijing vowed to ignore the ruling, which also incensed millions of Chinese citizens, told since grade school that most of the sea belongs to their country.

Chinese passports issued from 2012 feature the dashed-line map around most of the South China Sea. (AP/Ng Han Guan)
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