|A woman holds a Chinese passport, displaying a Chinese map which includes an area in the South China Sea inside a line of dashes representing maritime territory claimed by China (L, top) and a picture of Beijing's Tiananmen Square (bottom), at an office in Wuhan airport, Hubei province, November 23, 2012. The Philippines and Vietnam condemned Chinese passports containing a map of China's disputed maritime claims on Thursday, branding the new design a violation of their sovereignty. REUTERS/Stringer
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government will no longer stamp entry visas on new Chinese e-passports which feature a map of Beijing's controversial claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that: "Further to the Philippine protest against the inclusion of the 9-dash line map in the Chinese e-passport which covers an area that is part of the Philippine territory and maritime domain, the Philippines will no longer stamp its visas on the Chinese e-passport."
"Instead, the Philippines will stamp it on a separate visa application form," it added.
The DFA said the action is being undertaken to avoid the Philippines being misconstrued as legitimizing the 9-dash line every time a Philippine visa is stamped on Chinese e-passports.
The government said it is preparing early implementation of the move.
"Through this action, the Philippines reinforces its protest against China's excessive claim over almost the entire South China Sea including the West Philippine Sea," it said.
"The Philippines views said expansive 9-dash claim as inconsistent with international law, specifically UNCLOS."
The Philippines' action is similar to the one taken by Vietnamese immigration officers who refused to stamp entry visas on Chinese e-passports.
"We do not stamp the new Chinese passports," said an official at Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport, the country's main international gateway.
"We issue them a separate visa," said the official, who did not want to be named.
A border guard in northern Lang Son province said they were also not stamping the new passports but issuing separate visas to Chinese arrivals.
Even with the new passports, however, "Chinese citizens can still travel normally through the border gate," the guard added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday that he was not aware of Vietnam's refusal to stamp visas in China's new passports.
Beijing has attempted to downplay the diplomatic fallout from the recently introduced passports, with the foreign ministry arguing the maps were "not made to target any specific country".
Microblog users in China complained the immigration rules for the new passports were causing inconvenience and delays on arrival.
"Immigration is requesting a separate visa form. This is causing lots of trouble, and is very time consuming," one user wrote on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
Beijing has long infuriated southern neighbors such as Vietnam with its claim to vast swathes of the South China Sea, with Chinese maps showing a "nine-dash line" that runs almost to the Philippine and Malaysian coasts.
Both the Philippines and India have also protested against the map in Beijing's new biometric passports.
India has started stamping its own map onto visas issued to Chinese visitors as the map shows the disputed border areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as part of Chinese territory.
Manila, which claims part of the Spratlys, sent Beijing a formal protest letter last week, calling the maps "an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law".
The South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources.
Other claimants to parts of the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. With Agence France-Presse