• Monday, May 25, 2020
  • Last Update : 08:21 pm

In Taiwan, anger at China over virus drives identity debate

  • Published at 03:55 pm April 1st, 2020
Taiwan: coronavirus
File Photo: A staff wears a face mask with a Taiwanese flag design, as protection due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, at a factory for non woven filter fabric used to make surgical face masks, in Taoyuan, Taiwan, March 30, 2020 Reuters

Taiwan has been debating for years who it is and what exactly its relationship should be with China - including the island's name

Anger at being confused with China amid the coronavirus outbreak and Beijing's stepped-up efforts to assert sovereignty is stirring heated debate in Taiwan about how to further distance itself from its giant and often threatening neighbour.

At its core is a debate about whether to drop "China" from the island's official name, the Republic of China.

During the virus crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO), which considers the island part of China, has listed Taiwan's far lower case number under China's, and China has repeatedly insisted only it has the right to speak for Taiwan on the global stage, including about health issues.

Taipei says this has confused countries and led them to impose the same restrictions on Taiwanese travellers as on Chinese, and has minimized Taiwan's own successful efforts to control the virus.

Taiwan has been debating for years who it is and what exactly its relationship should be with China - including the island's name. But the pandemic has shot the issue back into the spotlight.

Lin I-chin, a legislator for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said in parliament last month that Taiwan should change its English name to "Republic of Chunghwa", an English rendering of the word Taiwan uses for China in its name.

"Taiwan has been brought to grief by China," she said.

On Sunday, the New Power Party, one of Taiwan's smaller opposition groups, released the results of a survey in which almost three-quarters of respondents said Taiwan passports should only have the word "Taiwan" on them, removing any reference to China.

"During this epidemic period, our people have been misunderstood by other countries, highlighting the urgency of changing the English name," it said in a statement.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry has given a cautious response to the passport idea, noting that according to the constitution, the official name is Republic of China and that the word Taiwan was already added to passport covers in 2003.

"In the future, if there is consensus between the ruling and opposition parties on this new name, the Foreign Ministry shall cooperate in handling it," spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.

But the government is wary of a name change for Taiwan, saying there is no consensus for such a radical move.

Although the DPP supports the island's independence - theoretically meaning the official formation of a Republic of Taiwan - President Tsai Ing-wen says there is no need to do so, as the island is already an independent country called the Republic of China. She often refers to the island as the Republic of China, Taiwan.

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