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China's New Passport Sparks Diplomatic Dispute
An angry diplomatic row has erupted between China and some of its South East Asian neighbours over the country's newly designed passport.
The Chinese have redesigned the passport to include a map of the country.
But as well as outlining mainland China, the design includes Taiwan and a dotted line stretching far out into the South China sea - into territory claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.
Two Himalayan regions claimed by India are also marked as Chinese.
Territorial disputes over islands and shipping routes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea have intensified in recent months. China has a longstanding claim on the whole of the South China Sea and a set of islands off the coast of Japan.
However, its recent efforts to enforce that claim with military might have enraged the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia. They all claim part of the sea and occupy islands in the disputed waters.
"This is total ignorance of reality and only provokes disputes," said Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the Cabinet-level body responsible for ties with Beijing.
Taiwan split from China after a civil war in 1949. China has claimed it as its own ever since. Improved relations over the past few years are now at renewed risk.
Speaking in Manila, the Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters that he sent a note to the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines in which he "strongly protests" against the image.
"[The area outlined in the map is] clearly part of the Philippines' territory and maritime domain." he told reporters.
Vietnam reacted in much the same way. It too has sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi. In the note they insist that Beijing removes the "erroneous content".
Printing a map in a passport which other countries consider to be incorrect is, diplomatically, particularly provocative because those countries are forced to stamp the map, thus endorsing the content.
However, according to reports from New Delhi, India has decided to stamp its own version of the map on Indian visas issued in Chinese passports.
India and China fought a brief border war over Himalayan land in 1962.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said the new passport, which now includes an electronic chip, was introduced to conform to international standards.
"The outline map of China on the passport is not directed against any particular country," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
US President Barack Obama backed a call for a 'code of conduct' on a visit to the region earlier this week.
The United States has insisted it will not take sides in any of the territorial disputes, though it is closely allied with all the countries with whom China is clashing.
To each of the nations in the maritime dispute, the tiny island outcrops dotted across the area are important for what may be under them and for the domestic reaction that losing or capturing them might provoke.
Satellite images of some of the islands in the disputed waters, seen by Sky News, show that all the countries have invested significant time and effort in building up their defensive measures.
The Philippines and China have both build deep harbours and runways capable of hosting fighter jets on two tiny outcrops which form part of the Spratly Islands.
The waterway is a vital shipping lane. Given that China and South-East Asian countries are massive exporters to the West, any escalation in the disputes could have much broader consequences.