Only a few days ago, the author discussed what could be behind the move to leave out the “Republic of China” (ROC) title on the official name plate of the Taiwan Representative Office in the Republic of Somaliland (which practically none of the nations recognize as a state). And, more recently, there has been another piece of news about a redesigned cover for the ROC passport (to be introduced in January of next year) that has yet again given us food for thought.
It is important to point out straightaway that Taiwan’s political status is a sensitive and controversial issue. After all, Taiwan is not a UN member state at present. In fact, up until 1971, the Republic of China was in fact a part of this highly respected international organization. At the time, mainland China (i.e. the People’s Republic of China) was (funnily enough) waiting to be admitted into the UN.
Still, this does not mean that the Taiwan factor and approximately 23 million residents of the island (who enjoy a fairly high standard of living) play no role in modern politics with a capital P. Nonetheless at present, in accordance with international law, only the PRC represents China (whose history spans thousands of years) at the United Nations. Yet, a number of states (i.e. fewer than 20), such as the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, choose to ignore the aforementioned fact.
Politicians in the United States, i.e. PRC’s key geopolitical rival, do not publicly question Taiwan’s status. However, in reality, in recent years, Washington appears to be steadfastly following a path towards establishing diplomatic relations with Taipei. With such actions, the United States seems to have issued a challenge to Beijing, which probably views residents of Taiwan as sheep who have lost their way and need to return (by one means or another) to their “flock” in China so that they can be taken care of.
In fact, this fairly radical difference in views on the future of Taiwan is one of the issues, which continues to grow in prominence on the political landscape, that is contributing to the tensions between the two world powers.
The internal political struggle in Taiwan, involving two main participants: the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its predecessor at the helm, the Kuomintang (the Chinese Nationalist Party), is playing an increasingly important role in this problem area too.
The DPP seems to be whole-heartedly following Washington’s lead towards (de facto and de jure) Taiwan’s independence from the PRC. In fact, achieving such a status would mean that the word “China” will no longer feature in any references to Taiwan in the future. And removal of the ROC title from the name plate of Taiwan Representative Office in the Republic of Somaliland could be indeed a sign of things to come. Still, the current President of Taiwan and the DPP leader, Tsai Ing-wen, pointed out that the omission was not deliberate and expressed her respect for the name “the Republic of China”.
The current events remind the author of an incident, which occurred three years ago, involving a resident of Taiwan, who arrived in Japan for her studies and managed to pass passport control “using a document with a cover having a sticker that” reads ‘Republic of Taiwan’. The young woman (who appeared not to concern herself with issues of politics with a capital P) then proceeded to post her picture with the passport online. The woman at the center of the diplomatic spat that subsequently arose between Tokyo and Beijing over the incident then stated she “had already passed five checks with the ‘sticker’ on her passport at the Japanese airport without any problems”.
It then came to light that such passport covers had “long been observed at airports in other countries”, such as the USA. At the time, Taipei failed to issue any statements that could have shed light on those incidents.
The news about a new cover being designed for passports to be issued in Taiwan comes in a domestic and external climate, which the author has just described in general terms. The fact that the English word “Taiwan” is highlighted on the new cover caused a stir on the “mainland”. The ROC title, on the other hand, which is “prominently displayed on the current passport, is in a much smaller font and encircles the national emblem in the new design”.
The latest incident is indicative of a broader trend. And Tsai Ing-wen does appear to respect the name, “the Republic of China”, but not as much as the word “Taiwan”. For the Kuomintang (DPP’s rival), on the other hand, the ROC title remains important or just as relevant as the name Taiwan, even nowadays.
In fact, over at least two recent decades, the Kuomintang has become an integral part of Taiwan’s political landscape. The Chinese Nationalist Party arrived on the scene in Taiwan during the post-World War II period when its members came to the island after losing the civil war. And still, the key principles promoted by Sun Yat-sen, referred to as the “Father of the Nation” in the Republic of China and respected within the Communist Party of China (CPC), are still a part of Kuomintang’s philosophy nowadays.
His successor Chiang Kai-shek, CPC’s staunch enemy, shared his predecessor’s vision and chose to make Taiwan his home after the civil war. When several years ago “natives” of Taiwan defaced a monument dedicated to Chiang Kai-shek (an “oppressor” of independent Taiwan), Beijing (surprisingly) condemned the act of vandalism. Hence, China still has a chance to return Taiwan to its bosom by peaceful means. However, proponents of Taiwan’s independence, i.e. the DPP, have been at the helm on the island since 2016, and the United States continues to support them in every way possible.
Then again, Washington did not appear to have any issues pursuing its policy to contain China during the rein of the Kuomintang (2008 to 2016) either. In fact, the agreement, which the New Eastern Outlook reported on earlier, to purchase 66 new American-made F-16 fighter jets from the United States had been discussed during the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou, currently a staunch critic of Tsai Ing-wen.
In such a context, a noteworthy event took place on September 3, when the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT, the de facto US embassy) “hosted a commemorative ceremony to unveil a memorial” in its territory “to honor the 126 US service members who lost their lives defending Taiwan since 1949”. “Medals and two framed certificates of the ROC Commemorative Medals of the Operations of Defending Taiwan, conferred posthumously to two American officers” are included in the memorial. The two men died in 1954 during a shelling of the island of Kinmen (a part of Taiwan located approximately 10 km from mainland China) during the First Taiwan Strait Crisis.
It is also quite noteworthy that the medals and certificates were conferred on the fallen service men by the then President, Ma Ying-jeou, back in 2016. According to Brent Christensen, head of AIT, the medals and certificates would be displayed in AIT’s lobby to honor US personnel – past, present, and future – who continue the work these brave men started: shoring up the US-Taiwan strategic partnership and supporting Taiwan’s self-defense.
Such a stance taken by Taiwan’s key (de facto) ally is certainly shared by the ruling party in Taiwan at present, i.e. the DPP. In fact, at the end of August, President Tsai Ing-wen announced that Taiwan would “ease restrictions on US beef and pork imports”.
Recently, the Czech Republic (a “super power” located in another part of the world altogether) decided, for no particular reason, to get involved in the ongoing maneuvers taking place in relation to one of the most volatile geopolitical issues in modern history. The author is referring to the visit by the incumbent President of the Senate of the Czech Republic to Taiwan. Tsai Ing-wen welcomed the guest. The trip coincided with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s European diplomatic tour. The visit by the high-ranking PRC official to the EU is important for both sides.
From the author’s perspective, at present, some of the Eastern European limitrophe states, which got their freedom back from Communist “tyranny” and immediately became a part of the Western European civilization, are in the process of transforming into “bedbugs” of the world of politics. In fact, this is their only role in the aforementioned political climate. Hence, it is best to avoid them at all costs.
In conclusion, the author would like to point out once again that as the confrontation between Beijing and Washington intensifies, it is easier for the United States to engage with the pro-independence DPP (rather than its rival, the Kuomintang), whose leadership appears to be intent on erasing (surreptitiously and gradually) any signs referring to China from anything symbolizing the island’s identity.
And the news about the new passport cover design is indicative of the aforementioned trend.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.