In a surprising but encouraging turn of events, the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Thursday that it will not accept the demand of Beijing to exclude the designation of "Taiwan" as the birthplace on the passports of any of its passport holders and to use the designation "China." The announcement came as a surprise because Beijing said that Canada will follow China in this regard, a fact which was confirmed by a spokesperson of the Canadian Passport Office only last week.
What prompted this sudden and abrupt change of attitude by Canada? In all likelihood, this had much to do with lobbying, protest and a letter-writing campaign to legislators by Canada's Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Macau immigrant communities. (China had imposed a similar restriction on the designation of "Hong Kong" and "Macau" as birthplaces on passport).
In the US, the Taiwanese community has gone through the same ordeal. As a result of intensive lobbying and protests by communities, the annual State Department Authorization Bill passed in 1994 includes a provision that allows for the designation of "Taiwan" as birthplace on passports. Since members of the US Senate and House of Representatives are generally sympathetic to the predicament of Taiwan, the likelihood of any amendment to this provision as a result of Chinese pressure is very slim.
Indeed, why should any self-respecting country roll over to such unreasonable demands? Matters concerning the issuance of passports and visas are entirely within the sovereign powers of each country. No other country has the right to meddle in them. Any country that allows such meddling by another country not only is acting disgracefully, but have in fact betrayed the trust of its people.
Moreover, if China refuses to issue visas to holders of passports that fail to comply with its requirement on birthplace designation, it would constitute a discrimination on the order of refusing someone to enter its borders on the basis of sex, religion, age and so on. Of course, China probably couldn't care less, since it has never even bothered to pretend to have any regard for human rights, as demonstrated by the recent controversy over the national security bill in Hong Kong.
While China has tried to use similar tactics before, it had acted mostly on an ad hoc basis with other countries. But things were different this time. On Wednesday, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs openly conceded that it has asked countries of the world to comply with its request, as if China was declaring an open war on the appearance of the word "Taiwan" in any way or capacity that might suggest it is not a Chinese province.
In all likelihood, the move was made in retaliation to the fact that Taiwan will begin to issue passports with the word "Taiwan" appearing on the cover starting in September.
One thing Beijing did not expect though is that, although it may have gotten away with this demand in the past when it was acting on a case-by-case basis bilaterally, once the demand is made in a collective and high-profile manner, the targets of its demand have to worry about things that probably and rightfully never crossed the authoritarian Beijing's mind as potential problems, such as popular will.
Therefore, it is important for the Taiwan government to realize that while it may be no match for the power of China, there is one thing that not even China can defeat and that is its citizenry and Chinese people across the world.