Taiwan demotes 'Republic of China' reference on new passports

New design aims to avoid confusion with mainland, says government, though opposition criticises ‘ideological move’

Taiwan has revealed the new design of its passport, minimising the words “Republic of China” and eschewing popular submissions featuring pictures of animals, food and bubble tea.

The new passport, unveiled on Wednesday, no longer has large English lettering spelling out “Republic of China”, having moved the words into a small design feature around the national emblem. The “Taiwan” lettering is enlarged.

A government legislator proposed the change in April, saying the passport cover was leading to misunderstandings about people being from the Republic of China (Taiwan), versus the People’s Republic of China on the mainland.

Lawmakers passed a resolution in July to ask the foreign ministry to change the passport to highlight “Taiwan” over “China”, and for the transport ministry to explore renaming Taiwan’s state-run China Airlines.

However the opposition Kuomintang party said it was hard not to see the new passport as an expression of the government’s “ideological and political considerations”.

The Kuomintang and the governing party have differing stances on Taiwan’s status as it relates to Beijing.

The government led by Tsai Ing-wen says Taiwan is a sovereign country, and has rejected Beijing’s push for “one country two systems” governance.

Since it transitioned into democracy, Taiwan’s developing identity has moved it further away from the prospect of reunification with China.

Old vs new Taiwan passports.

A lot more Taiwan, a lot less Republic of China. pic.twitter.com/PaVcXUxXVC

— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) September 2, 2020

An online competition launched by the New Power party drew creative public submissions, including depictions of the Taipei 101 building, bowls of braised pork rice, and numerous entries featuring bubble tea, but in the end authorities went with a traditional design.

“The new cover keeps all the same elements we have on the existing cover but we highlighted the English word for ‘Taiwan’ and moved it close to the word ‘passport’ to make it clear that the passport is a Taiwan passport,” said the foreign minister, Joseph Wu, at Wednesday’s unveiling.

At the end of China’s civil war in 1949, Communist forces declared the mainland the People’s Republic of China, while the defeated Nationalists fled to Taiwan and named it the Republic of China.

Debate over the name has come to a head during the pandemic, when the names caused confusion amid increased global focus on the different Covid-19 responses, including Taiwan’s international assistance, and various national travel bans, those calling for the change said.

The Kuomintang party said: “If the ministry of foreign affairs is worried that this name may be confused with the name of the other side of the strait, it should make every effort to explain the difference between the two to other countries, and increase the international community’s understanding of ‘Republic of China’.”

Cross-strait relations are particularly sensitive, as countries like the US bolster their support for Taiwan despite having no formal diplomatic ties. Beijing considers Taiwan to be a Chinese territory under its “one China principle”, even though the Communist party has never ruled there, and has not ruled out mounting an invasion. In 2003 the Taiwanese passport was updated to add the word “Taiwan”. In 2015 some Taiwanese people who added stickers with the words “Republic of Taiwan” to their passports were denied entry to mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore, QZ reported.

Authorities will start issuing the new passports in January.


Helen Davidson

The GuardianTramp

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