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Taiwan Introduces New Passport Cover to Draw Distinction From China

In this Sept. 2, 2020, photo released by the Executive Yuan, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (C) and Executive Yuan spokesperson Evian Ting (L), and Director of Consular Affairs Bureau Phoebe Yeh unveil Taiwan's new passport cover in Taipei.
In this Sept. 2, 2020, photo released by the Executive Yuan, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (C) and Executive Yuan spokesperson Evian Ting (L), and Director of Consular Affairs Bureau Phoebe Yeh unveil Taiwan's new passport cover in Taipei.

The Taiwan government released a new design Wednesday for its passport cover, and the island's popularly known name “Taiwan” is noticeably amplified in a bold font to avoid a connection to China, once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a reduced size, the island’s official name – “the Republic of China” (R.O.C.) – remains on the cover, which observers say helps de-escalate tensions with China.

The official name, R.O.C., has made it difficult for its people to travel overseas since the start of the pandemic in January, as Taiwanese often are mistaken for Chinese, according to Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu.

The government pushed the legislature to pass a motion in July, requesting that the Cabinet redesign the country’s passport cover and the insignia of China Airlines, Taiwan’s national carrier, to be more Taiwan-centric.

Taiwan-centric passport

Acting on the legislative motion, Wu said the new design puts Taiwan front and center on the cover while making only minimal changes.

“On the passport cover, the word Taiwan is enlarged and placed right above the word passport, which stresses explicitly it’s a Taiwan passport. It’s now crystal clear,” Wu told a press briefing Wednesday to introduce the new design.

Another change involves the island’s official name, which is largely downsized on the cover, but printed three times inside the ring circling the national emblem.

Taiwan first added its alternative name to the passport cover in 2003 when the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) swept into power, which was widely seen as a part of the party’s hidden agenda to push Taiwan toward de jure independence.

Confrontations avoided

The re-designed passport cover suggests another step forward, although the DPP government apparently has made concessions by retaining the official name to avoid being engaged in ideological confrontations, said opposition KMT legislator Charles Chen.

Members of the media take photos of paper cut-outs of the old and new (R) Taiwan passport displayed in Taipei, Taiwan, Sept. 2, 2020.

“I think the hidden agenda is no more hidden. But this step is rather small, a very tiny step. So, there’s a strong compromise in this design. If it really takes off the term, Republic of China, from the cover, wow, that’s [will be] a significant step,” Chen told VOA by phone.

That could provoke China, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province but so far, China’s response toward the new passport design appears to be measured.

DPP’s tricks

“Whatever tricks the DPP government is pulling, Taiwan remains an integral part of China – a fact that will never change,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, told a media briefing when asked to respond to Taiwan’s new passport design.

Domestically, the KMT’s Chen said the new design only serves the purpose of the DPP government to please its supporters since it won’t affect the way airport customs around the world handle Taiwan’s passport holders.

There had been reports, however, that Taiwanese passport holders were barred from entering countries such as Indonesia, which refused entry of the Chinese people to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As a result, a poll in March released by the New Power Party (NPP) showed that nearly 75% of Taiwanese supported the idea of removing “Republic of China” from the country’s passports to draw a clear distinction between Taiwanese and Chinese.

Genuine desire

NPP creative media director Jerry Liu said the government’s move to highlight “Taiwan” on the passport cover is positively welcomed, but not enough.

“If they just put the ‘Republic of China’ inside the passport, like the very first page of the passport, and on the cover, only show, then it will be just much better. And I’m sure the majority of Taiwanese people will appreciate that way,” Liu told VOA by phone.

Liu also urged the government to find ways to modify the island’s national emblem as it bears a striking resemblance to the KMT’s party emblem.

According to Liu, the party has kick-started a new passport cover design contest in the past few months. It says it has received more than 120 designs, which show mostly only “Taiwan” and images about Taiwan, such as a butterfly, a Taiwan deer or a Taiwan blue magpie on their proposed passport cover designs.

This underscores how much the local people desire to be identified as Taiwanese, instead of Chinese, Liu added.

Recent polls show that a record 83% of local people identified themselves as Taiwanese.