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India waded into the international row over the map in new Chinese passports on Friday, describing its inclusion of swaths of disputed territory along the two countries’ border as unacceptable.
Along with other affected Asian nations, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, which object to the map’s “nine-dash line” around the South China Sea, Indian officials are incensed by Beijing’s move to establish its territorial claims in the passports.
“We are not prepared to accept it,” said Salman Khurshid, India’s foreign minister.
According to the Press Trust of India news agency, India’s embassy in Beijing has retaliated by issuing visas to Chinese citizens showing its own map.
Beijing claims virtually the entire South China Sea and large parts of territory either inside modern India or claimed by India, and has been increasingly strident in recent years in asserting these claims.
The dispute with India – with which China shares a border of more than 4,000 kilometres – concerns the state of Arunachal Pradesh in India’s north-east and its northern Aksai Chin region, over which China and India fought a brief war in 1962.
The two countries signed agreements in the 1990s to honour what is known as the “Line of Actual Control”, and have made several attempts to forge closer ties and reach a more permanent solution to the dispute.
Only two days ago in New Delhi, Mr Khurshid hailed the two countries’ fast-growing trade and investment ties, saying there had been “a dramatic change of [Indian] public perception and attitude” about China since 1962.
“I think the future of Asia and the future of the world will come back somehow or other to what kind of relationship India and China are able to develop,” he told a meeting of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia.
Maps are highly sensitive issues across Asia. Even in democratic India, maps in foreign publications are sometimes blacked out by censors if they do not conform to the country’s territorial claims over areas disputed with China and Pakistan.
Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan have also protested against the Chinese passport move, amid predictions that Asian governments will seek to improve ties with the US as a counterweight to China’s growing power.
Hanoi demanded that Beijing remove the “erroneous content” of its new passports, while Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said the decision to print them showed “total ignorance of reality and only provokes disputes”.
China’s foreign ministry says the map is not targeted at any specific countries and has expressed hope that the row will not affect travel.