Wed, Dec 08, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: `Taiwan' means what it says

After visiting Taiwan a few years ago, some journalists from New Zealand said their biggest regret was the government's refusal to call itself by the name "Taiwan" -- despite it clearly being an independent country. But the nation's official representative offices across the world continue to use other names, confusing allies and friends and undercutting national dignity.

Take, for example, the name of Taiwan's delegation to the WTO. Its title is the "Permanent Mission of the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu." Taiwan's representative office in Hong Kong is called a "travel service," and its office in London was once called the Sun Yat-sen Cultural Center. Dignified, indeed.

It is necessary, therefore, to standardize the names of Taiwan's official representative offices and state-run companies in order to clearly distinguish them from those of China.

When the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government broached the introduction of a new constitution and the amendment of the national title, many people said -- all too predictably -- that this was like walking a tightrope, provoking China by implementing a unilateral change to the cross-strait "status quo."

Those raising such questions now seem to include officials from the US Department of State. Yet there can be no doubt that the Taiwanese public is determined to see that peace prevails. The current problem, therefore, is how to adjust the currently unstable situation and help the international community get a clearer picture of this country without attracting too much opposition from less sympathetic countries.

There is no need for the State Department to be so nervous. It seems that as soon as Taiwan mentions a new constitution or title of convenience, their officials fear a declaration of independence is imminent. Taiwanese democracy operates on the strength of the same mechanisms as many other democratic countries. All matters concerning national sovereignty must be approved by the legislature, so President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the government are hardly likely to adopt the autocratic methods so loved by earlier Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administrations.

Changing the names of state-run enterprises, on the other hand, is a purely domestic matter and the US has no basis on which it can interfere. As for the names of private enterprises, not even Taiwan's government can interfere with such commercial decisions.

Attempts to change the name of Taiwan date back to 1979 when the Taiwan Relations Act came into force. At that time the KMT even protested that the name Taiwan was being used to refer to the Republic of China (ROC). So, if "Taiwan" is now used to stand in for "ROC" in other contexts, the US really has no reason to object. If it does, it might be usefully asked to refer to its own law books.

There is nothing unreasonable about a new constitution that redefines this nation's territories as those which it actually controls, namely Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. Similarly, any reasonable person would welcome the name "Taiwan" as a replacement for all of the peculiar titles under which this country has labored so that people can differentiate between Taiwan and China at a glance.

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