China claims almost all of the South China Sea, but Vietnam and four other governments have claims in the region, including the Spratly Islands, which are believed to sit atop mineral deposits.
The passports have caused a stir in the region, prompting protests from several countries, including Vietnam.
Colonel Luong Van Son, deputy director of Lao Cai provincial border police says new passport holders are allowed to enter the country, but officials issue visas on separate pieces of paper.
Luong says this was a “light” approach to the problem agreed upon by government ministries and, so far, China had not reacted. He added the passport design is a “serious violation” of Vietnamese sovereignty and is not recognized by the international community.
Last week, a spokesman for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Luong Thanh Nghi, protested the new passport design.
He says the ministry had sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi objecting to the move and asked China to cancel the passport. The Philippines and Taiwan also objected.
In Manila Monday, Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez says authorities there are still accepting the passports for visa applications, for now.
“What we can say is we are considering different options as far as follow-up action. I don’t know what are those options,” he said.
The passport also includes territory claimed by India. In response, officials at the Indian Embassy in Beijing stamped Chinese visas with a map embossed with New Delhi’s own map.
Observers say the move is part of an ongoing trend of China asserting territorial claims in the area. China’s Foreign Ministry says the map of the sea printed in the new passports is not targeted at any specific countries.