Vietnamese tour operator Saigontourist has been slapped with a hefty fine for issuing pamphlets that contain a map depicting the invalid “nine-dash line” used by China to support their illegal claims to the East Vietnam Sea.
The violating pamphlets advertise attractions in China’s Fenghuang (Phoenix) Ancient Town and Zhangjiajie City.
On the back of the pamphlets, domestic and international flight routes connected to the Zhangjiajie Hehua International Airport are illustrated on a map of China that includes the illegal “nine-dash line”.
The U-shaped line is an arbitrary demarcation line used on Chinese maps to illustrate Beijing’s illegal and unilaterally declared claims to vast expanses of the East Vietnam Sea, including large swathes of Vietnam’s Continental Shelf.
Inspectors from the Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Department found pamphlets containing the illicit map at a sales office of Saigontourist on Thursday after conducting an inspection on a customer’s tip-off.
The finding was reported to the company’s leaders at a meeting on the same day.
According to Saigontourist, the pamphlets - available in Vietnamese - had been provided by a Chinese travel company with whom it partners to operate tours to the two Chinese destinations.
The pamphlets were handed to Saigontourist employees after a meeting between the two sides on September 30, it said.
The Chinese company, known as Trung The in Vietnamese, has a representative office in Zhangjiajie and is currently partnering with many Vietnamese holiday firms to operate tours to China, according to Saigontourist.
|Tours to Zhangjiajie and Fenghuang Ancient Town, China are advertised on the website of Vietnamese holiday firm Saigontourist in this screen grab.|
After its Thursday meeting with tourism inspectors, Saigontourist said it has immediately removed the violating publications from all of its sales offices.
The Vietnamese firm said it has also cut ties with the Chinese partner due to the incident.
“We take responsibility for issuing publications that contain inaccurate information,” Saigontourist said in a statement on Friday.
The Ho Chi Minh City-based holiday firm will pay a fine of VND50 million (US$2,200) for “issuing publications that inaccurately depict national sovereignty”, said Tu Luong, deputy director of the municipal Department of Information and Communications.
That is the heaviest fine for such a violation pursuant to Vietnamese regulations, Luong said, adding that the violating pamphlets will also be destroyed.
Tours to Zhangjiajie and Fenghuang Ancient Town are popular among Vietnamese holidaymakers.
A packaged tour visiting both destination in six days costs around VND11-12 million ($475-520) per passenger flying from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, according to the prices listed on some Vietnamese holiday firms’ websites.
Early this month, DreamWorks’ animated feature film ‘Abominable’ was removed from theaters in Vietnam after viewers noticed the “nine-dash line” depicted on a map seen in the background of one scene.