Surin Pitsuwan, the outgoing Asean secretary general, has come up with the strongest warning ever over the South China Sea disputes. He told Financial Times yesterday that the conflict risks turning into an "Asia's Palestine" issue -- that could deteriorate into a violent conflict that draws sharp dividing lines between nations and destabilises the whole region.
He said Asia was entering its "most contentious" period in recent years as a rising China stakes out its claim to almost the entire South China Sea, clashing with the Philippines, Vietnam and others.
He told the FT: "We have to be mindful of the fact that the South China Sea could evolve into another Palenstine" if countries do not try harder to defuse rather than inflame tensions.
The latest incident concerns China's decision to print a map of its extensive maritime claim, known as the "nine-dotted line" in new passports, prompting Vietnam to hit back by marketing the passports of visiting Chinese as "invalid." Vietnamese immigration officials have issued separate visa forms.
India has also protested. Other countries have found themselves in a dilemma as to what to do with the passports used by Chinese visitors.
The Thai Foreign Ministry says there is no issue for Thai immigration officials.