Friday, 25 Sep 2020

Taiwan 'playing little tricks' with new passport design, says China

TAIPEI – Taiwan on Wednesday (Sept 2) unveiled the island’s new passport cover, which enlarges the letters spelling out “Taiwan” and shrinks the name “Republic of China” to barely visible print, thus setting the travel document apart from a Chinese passport.

While Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China (ROC), the idea was to give more attention to the word “Taiwan”, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The words “Republic of China” have been worked into the design of the national emblem, and are wrapped around it in much smaller lettering, so much so that they escape notice at first glance.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said: “The new passport is more recognisable and emphasises the Taiwanese elements. In fact, it clearly (conveys) that we are Taiwanese people when we have the passport.”

Passports issued from January 2021 will sport the new look.

The design change followed the legislature’s approval of proposals for a new cover as well as a change in name for the island’s flagship air carrier, China Airlines.

“The new cover keeps all the same elements…but we’ve highlighted ‘Taiwan’ in English and moved it closer to the word ‘passport’, as to make it clearer that this is a Taiwanese passport,” said Foreign Minister Joseph Wu at a press conference on Wednesday to unveil the new look.

The Foreign Ministry has alerted the International Air Transport Association and foreign governments, airports, air carriers as well as immigration authorities to the new passport cover design, said Mr Wu.

In response to questions about the new passport design, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular media briefing Wednesday that the DPP was “playing little tricks.”

“Taiwan is an inseparable part of china, this is a truth that will not change,” Ms Hua said.

Citizens seemed to welcome the change, especially those who have experienced airport delays before because of the confusion over the “Republic of China” and the “People’s Republic of China”, which is China’s official name.

Ms Wu Hsin-yen, 29, recalls her experience flying to Malaga from Vienna on Irish budget airline Ryanair, which requires passengers to check in for flights in person.

Ms Wu and her friends spent a significant amount of time arguing with the ground crew that Taiwanese citizens didn’t need visas for European Union countries due to the Schengen visa waiver programme. “The ground crew saw our passports and insisted ‘Chinese citizens need visas’, to which I kept explaining we were the ‘Republic of China’, not China,” said Ms Wu, who works at a nutrition supplement company.

She nearly missed her flight. “I remember being furious then about how our passports say ROC… I saw today that many complained online about why the new cover couldn’t just say ‘Taiwan’, but I think this is already way more convenient for people who travel often, and I understand that the government is under pressure and cannot get rid of the word ‘China’ immediately.”

Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), however, expressed unhappiness with the new look, criticising the ruling Democratic Progressive Party for being narrow-minded, “making the ‘Republic of China’ so small on the passport that the words can hardly be seen”.

Dismissing any confusion arising from the ROC name, the KMT said the new cover does nothing to help citizens travelling abroad. “This won’t help them in terms of travel convenience, nor would it help Taiwan’s place in the world,” the statement read.

Some experts credit smaller political parties for pushing for the change. Mr Lev Nachman, a Fulbright Research Fellow and PhD candidate who focuses on Taiwanese politics at the University of California, Irvine, said: “If third parties had not pushed for this, the DPP would likely not have done any passport change at all.”

Mr Nachman said the DPP delivered a “far more moderate compromise than what was originally proposed by the pro-independence New Power Party (NPP)”.

“Overall, the changes to the passports are minimal – they do enough to appease domestic demand but do not go so far as to warrant serious condemnation or further damage cross-strait relations,” said Mr Nachman, who said that by retaining the word “China” on the passport in both English and Mandarin, the DPP can “still deny culpability if accused of trying to erase its connection to the ROC”.

“Given the moderate and pragmatic resolution to this first problem, I anticipate a similar level-headed solution to the China Airlines name change,” he noted.

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