Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Hanoi, Manila, New Delhi and Taipei announced they would promptly respond to China's decision to issue a new passport with a map that includes as part of China contested territories in the South China Sea and the Himalaya.
Without any coverage by domestic media, China's new passports are fuelling resentment among other Asian nations, including India, Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The new travel documents include Beijing's nine-dash line-sometimes called the "Cow Tongue" line-which demarcates its territories in the South China Sea (Spratly Islands for example), Taiwan, India's state of Arunachal Pradesh and parts of the Himalaya.
In an attempt to downplay the controversy, which is turning into a diplomatic incident, China's Foreign Ministry said, "China's map in the passport wasn't targeted at specific countries."
Still, India has already called China's move "unacceptable", and is now issuing Chinese citizens visas embossed with New Delhi's own maps.
Taiwan is also concerned that countries that accept the passport will implicitly recognise Chinese claims to the island.
Both New Delhi and Taipei have issued formal protests through diplomatic channels.
To counter Beijing's move, Vietnam has refused to stamp visas on the new Chinese passports. Its passport control offices are allowing Chinese passport holders into the country but issuing visas on separate documents.
This is an assertion of Vietnam's non-recognition of China's Cow's Tongue line "under any form,"
The four nations most affected by the new passport are to hold talks in Manila on 12 December to push for a common front against China's growing "imperialism".
Most experts and analysts agree that the South China Sea is one of the most contested regions in the world. If tensions are not lowered, conflicts could break out and spill across the region's boundaries.
Most parties to the issue, including Vietnam and Philippines, prefer a multilateral approach. China has opted instead for bilateral accords with each nation in order to profit from its great economic power to get the most from its territorial claims.
Among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region, China has in fact the most extensive maritime claims in the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which are uninhabited but rich in natural resources.
Holding hegemonic sway over the area would be strategically important for trade and access to natural resources, including oil and natural gas.
China's expansionist claims are challenged by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, joined by the United States, which has strategic interests of its own in the area.
Washington is particularly active behind the scene in building a coalition to counter China's expansionism. The Philippines and Japan are its leading members, but Vietnam too could become a major ally in a potentially conflictual scenario developing in the Asia-Pacific region.