China has redrawn the map printed in its passports to lay claim to almost all of the South China Sea, infuriating its neighbours. In the new passports, a nine-dash line has been added that hugs the coast of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and some of Indonesia, scooping up several islands that are claimed both by China and by its neighbours.
China has printed nearly six million of the passports since it quietly introduced them in April, judging by the average monthly application rate.
The Philippines joined Vietnam on Thursday in voicing its anger at the new map. "The Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash lines in the e-passport as such image covers an area that is clearly part of the Philippines' territory and maritime domain," said Albert del Rosario, a foreign affairs spokesman.
Immigration officials in other countries worry that they will implicitly recognise China's territorial claims simply by stamping the passports. The issue was brought to light by Vietnamese officials who are renewing six-month visas for Chinese businessmen.
In response, Vietnamese immigration is refusing to paste visas inside the new passports, instead putting the visa on a separate, detached page. "When I tried to cross the border, the officials refused to stamp my visa," said David Li, 19, from Guangdong province, who ran into problems getting into Vietnam on November 19.
"They claimed my visa was invalid. They said it was because on the new passport's map, the South China Sea part of China's marine border crossed Vietnam's territory, so if they stamped on it, it means they acknowledge China's claim."
Li said two other passengers had problems with their new passports, and that he was forced to buy a new visa for 50,000 Vietnamese dong (pounds 1.50).
Kien Deng, a Chinese travel agent who has worked in Vietnam for three years, said the Vietnamese officials had used the map for their financial advantage, charging a fee of 30 yuan (pounds 3) to holders of the offending passport in order to insert a new visa.
"They are playing a cheeky trick," he said. "There are 20,000 students who visit Vietnam from China every year, and 70,000 businessmen in Hanoi and at least as many again in Saigon. So it adds up to a huge amount."
The new passport also stakes a claim to the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands, which have been a great source of friction between China and Japan. However, the scale of the islands is so small as to be invisible, and Japan has not yet lodged a complaint.