New Chinese passport claiming Bhutanese territory unknowingly endorsed by Bhutanese officials

The areas circled in red are Bhutanese territory shown as Chinese territory on the passport

The diplomatic storm in Asia over Chinese passports printed with Chinese maps showing disputed territories with its neighbors like India, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Philippines as its own may now affect Bhutan.

This paper has found that Bhutanese Immigration and Visa officials for the past few months have been unknowingly stamping official government seals on the new Chinese passports which show maps with parts of Bhutanese territory as being under China.

Millions of such new Chinese passports were issued in May 2012. Bhutan in 2012 alone had 3,448 Chinese tourists visit as the third highest group after Japan and America. In November, 2012 alone there were 360 Chinese tourists visiting Bhutan. It is compulsory for Chinese tourists to have their passport and visa stamped by Bhutanese Visa and Immigration officials when they come to Bhutan.

The areas in question is Bhutanese territory under Haa Dzongkhag and comprises four pasture areas of Doklam  (89 sq km) and Giu, Sinchulumpa, Shakhateo and Dramana (180 sq km) coming to a total of 269 square km (see picture) all adjoining the Chumbi valley in China.

In the 20 boundary talks held so far Bhutan has maintained these areas as Bhutanese territory and is so reflected in maps issued by Bhutan. However, the Chinese representatives during the boundary talks laid claim to the 269 sq km on Bhutan’s Western Borders in addition to another 495 sq km area in Pasamlung, Bumthang which is also Bhutanese territory.

Official Chinese Maps show the two Western Bhutan areas of Doklam and the Giu, Sinchulumpa, Shakhateo and Dramana areas coming to a total of 269 sq km as Chinese territory. This same official map has been replicated in a smaller version on the passport.

In the seventh boundary talks in 1990 China had offered to give up its claim on the 495 sq km in Bumthang if Bhutan accepted its claim over the 269 sq km in Western Bhutan. Bhutan, however, did not accept this as it would affect livestock herders in this area who needs the area to graze their cattle and Yaks.

The Bhutanese got in touch with Foreign Ministry officials in Bhutan but senior officials were either not aware of the issue at all or did not want to comment at this stage. The Minister in charge of Foreign Affairs Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk and Home Minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji were both outside Thimphu and not available when the paper contacted them on the phone.

Meanwhile, Immigration Director Thinley Wangchuck said “when it comes to passports specifically, it is being dealt by the foreign ministry and the immigration department hasn’t received any directions from the ministry.”

“We do the visa stamping but when there’s a new passport or a revised one coming in, normally the ministry sends us a copy and instructions. I have not received that. Foreign ministry should tell us whether we should recognize a passport or not,” he added.

Internationally most countries with unresolved territorial disputes have their own version of the maps which is different from that of its neighbors as both countries lay claim to the same areas. However, this is the first time that a country has placed its version of the political map on passport pages which have to be signed by officials from the other country.

In this case the dilemma for the countries is the stamping of these Chinese passports with official government seals could be seen as acknowledgement of China’s territorial claims over its own claims.

The Indian Embassy and consulates in China have responded by stamping its own version of the Map on Chinese passports, Vietnam and Philippines have refused to stamp these passports and instead issued separate visas, Taiwan does not recognize Chinese passports.

According to international media reports the Washington state department, will raise concerns with China over a new map in Chinese passports.

These countries have also fiercely criticized the Chinese passports.

The map printed inside the new Chinese passports encompasses the entire South China Sea and effectively extends China’s land and sea borders to take in parts claimed by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and areas of India that have been the subject of dispute for some 50 years. The new map also includes areas of Bhutan that has been a subject of dispute with China since 1984.

During the 20th round of boundary talks between Bhutan and China that was held in the capital on August 10, earlier this year, both the countries reaffirmed their commitment to resolve boundary issue at the earliest, which was more or less a repetition of many such meetings between the two countries.

The delegations from both the countries reaffirmed their commitment through mutual consultation, understanding and accommodation on the basis of the Four Guiding Principles. The principles were agreed upon in 1988 and 1998 under the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility in the Bhutan-China border areas.

The Bhutanese delegation was led by the Minister in-charge for Foreign Affairs, Khandu Wangchuk. The Chinese Delegation was led by the Vice Foreign Minister, Fu Ying.

Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met in a first-time head of government level meeting between the two countries at the Rio de Janeiro on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Summit, earlier this year. Mr. Wen at the meeting told Lyonchhen that China was,” willing to complete border demarcation with Bhutan at an early date,” telling his counterpart that Beijing has “a foreign policy of good-neighborliness.”

This map controversy also comes when international attention including that of the USA under Barack Obama’s new Asia policy is increasingly focused on the South-East Asian region which is emerging as a global economic growth engine.

Meanwhile International media reports also show that China’s foreign ministry had sought to downplay the issue with its neighbors.  The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the design of this type of passport is not directed against any particular country,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily media briefing Friday. “We hope the relevant countries can calmly treat it with rationality and restraint so that the normal visits by the Chinese and foreigners will not be unnecessarily interfered with.”

Bhutan and China have so far had 20 rounds of border talks with China since 1984 till 2012. The latest passport controversy and the uncertainty will put increased pressure on Bhutan to resolve its borders and demarcate them at the earliest.

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26 comments

  1. What are the senior officials doing in this case? Are they playing dumb or what? Don’t they think thats a serious issue? 20 talks and no finalisation..remember folks our country is just a flea… I m just wondering what the Home and Foreign Ministry have to say on this? Or will they continue to take it as just another ‘HIGH LEVEL MEETING/TALK?

  2. Hum…. While the high profile people of Bhutan are busy changing/ claiming their maps withing Bhutan. International/ Our neighbors are busy changing their international boundaries.
    So it is time for the people to work hard for the country and be united and have common goal as said by our beloved kings.

  3. Dear Sir,

    The  map controversy is regarding the   maps of  China on visas issued by China for foreigners  wanting to visit China. I at least have not heard  of  the  revised maps being printed on Chinese passports.
    Sonam

    • u too are same like our so called high level delegates…..that was issue wit many countries and they reciprocrat by stamping thier version…..but our bhutanese govt.was ignorant…..

  4. dear sonam. its not the visa but its on the new passport issued….check out…

  5. I don’t see any logic in the issue. If Chinese come to places in Bhutan  they claim to be their territory without visa, and if our government  does not object on that, then they may claim that we are acknowledging their claims.  Otherwise, whether they have pictures of their leaders,celebrities or animals on the passport  should be left with them.  It is their passport. There is no point in making this issue very serious. But Yes, our government need to follow up on the border issue to resolve the issue for once and all.

    • ya…ur absolutely wrong ….because if bhutan drawn some chinese territory as ours in our passport than what would be thier reaction………..every country wheather big or small shall have sovereign right over its territory …….bhutan should stamp our version of passport…no need to be afriad of communist……

  6. this is a serious issue that the two governments must resolved it at the earliest.

  7. The border demarcation dispute needs to be addressed ASAP. After all a part has already been taken by China and changed the map of Bhutan altogether, I wonder what they’ll do next. The foreign ministry and the Govt. as a whole should REALLY look into this and find a solution. Should STAND FIRM on our rights. I wonder what really was the outcome of the 20 meetings that took place in the past, for one I know it did change the map once for worst, hope we don’t have to face another setback by being intimated by their economy and power…

  8. terminate those hopeless officials in the immigration and home ministry 

  9. Thumbs up for this news.It is news of true patriot.Bring those type of news instead of bias news.

  10. a very good and informative article by the paper. It is vital that we are aware of what is happening when the whole world is aware of it as the information is all over the internet. China has already many a times said their acts are not ‘expansionism’ as neighboring country’s put it but rather ‘reclamation’.   Our government must resolve this issue at the earliest (not the passport issue but the border dispute). I am sure people in the foreign ministry are paid hefty salaries so it would be great if they can be of some use apart from warming their office chairs. 

  11. What is international border office doing? sleeping even after 20 rounds of meeting? we have lost enough to chinese and please for bhutan cause don’t give the haa part again. don’t show sympathy just china is a big nation
     

  12. We need to ask so many ???s. On one hand our govr. is claiming that by contesting in UN non membership we would gain lots of our recognization as an independent country, but on the other hand it is so irony that we are unawear of what is happning along our boarder for our sovereignty. It is sad that we even do not have a Foriegn Minister to take this issues. You know FM is an important post for all diplomatic reletionship and it is rediculus that such important post could not be given a first priority. Please save our country.

  13. yes. few days back the news was all over BBC and CNN n even other news channels, have how could sleep throught tht information is just amazing . we are a rare breed, i truly believe. … we have to inform the ppl who are supposed to be responsible ,and paid to to their jobs ,,,to to their jobs,hahahhah……. then they will surely come up with excuses and “terms ” and  “norms” that this didnt happen n that should have been done…. its exhausting….to such things repeated in every big/small issues with this country.
    we deserve better, and its upon us to choose the right people for thr right jobs.

  14. One thumps up for u

  15. Here I will point my finger of blame not to immigration staff, but to MoFA. It is their responsibility to inform the immigration. Or were they totally ignorant of the issue and have not even watched TV. Scrambling for overseas posting is no diplomacy. This is a gross failure of the MoFA. I think Foreign Minister (if Bhutan has one) will have to come forward and accept responsibility for the ministry’s incompetence. What is going to be the significance of this failure? In the past China was known for preserving Bhutanese dried red chili offered as a part of lochag to claim its suzerainty over Bhutan. Are we increasing our sovereignty over the air and losing over the territorial borders? 

  16. We should just go ahead with establishment of diplomatic relationship with China if that is what they want in return for withdrawing their claims of our Area.

  17. A million Thumbs UP to The Bhutanese for such quality news and research. 
    You couldn’t have done better with quality news.

    Please keep up !!!!!!

  18. If there is world war III, It is going to be China Vs the Rest of the World… I wonder which side ‘the Bhutanese- leading the way’ will be on? 😛

  19. foreign ministry officials are all crap, enjoying on their salaries from public money. OMG- how many directors do we have in the MFA?  and all good for nothing including chiefs or heads of different divisions in the ministry. Except for the minister incharge and a few other senior officials, the rest are just warming the chairs doing nothin but playing games on their desktop and facebooking!!!

  20. it is sad to hear, such  bad news. what will be the next steps? We can see China is becoming world single or uni hegemony at par to USA. The action of world public opinion should interrupt and as far as possible  resolve and settle the problems and conflict  at the speedy rate. Let  us live in peace and world at peace. Wake up Bhutan and face the challenges of today!

  21. Foreign ministry officials are a bunch of brainless people because they are the sons and daughters of old bureaucrats who sent them there, not to serve but to enjoy the travel and perks. If we have to investigate all these old folks and bring them to justice half our population will be behind bars. How selfish most of our old folks were. They have the lowest integrity if not zero.
    Department of immigration should take the blame too. They must work together with MOFA.

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