China is asking Vietnam to investigate reports that a border agent at the Ho Chi Minh City airport defaced a Chinese passport. Images in state media reports show the words ‘f— you’ scribbled twice over maps of the contested South China Sea. The Chinese consulate in Ho Chi Minh City said in a statement Wednesday it strongly condemned the ‘shameless and cowardly’ act and asked Vietnamese officials to investigate and punish the agent.
China and Vietnam have had long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Tensions spiked in 2014 after China parked an oil rig near Vietnam’s central coast. China issued new passports starting 2012 with revised maps to include the ‘nine-dash line,” demarcating Beijing’s claim to nearly the entire South China Sea.
China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea on historical grounds, overlapping with claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Only Philippines has taken its dispute to The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled in its favor earlier this month on the basis of the 1982 UN Conventions on the Laws of the Sea. China, however, does not accept the tribunal’s authority over the matter and has rejected the ruling.
The ruling should embolden all claimants now that they know the international law does not favor China. Yet, the four Southeast Asian countries, which have little clout in the face of China’s might, are reluctant to escalate tensions by internationalizing the dispute.
On Tuesday, deputy foreign minister of Vietnam had said that the country aims to settle its territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiations even though it doesn’t rule out applying international laws.