Tue, Dec 14, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Speaking of titles -- let Taiwan be `Taiwan'

By Gerrit Van Der Wees

President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) decision to change the name of state-owned companies and overseas offices is to be applauded.

For far too long, state-owned companies have dragged along with them a name stemming from the middle of the previous century.

This was when they were part of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) China-based empire: China Airlines, China Shipbuilding, Chinese Petroleum and China Steel reflected the KMT's claim to rule over all of China.

The fact that we are now in the 21st century requires a name change that reflects the present-day reality that these companies are part of the infrastructure of a new Taiwan and have no links with China.

All too often, these companies were perceived as being "Chinese," leading to an endless series of confusing incidents, such as the painful headline a few years ago that a Chinese airliner had crashed, when it was in fact a China Airlines


Chen's move to change the name of overseas offices is also to be welcomed: in most countries, the offices are referred to as the "Taipei Economic and Cultural Office."

As everyone knows, they do more than represent "Taipei," but the rather paranoid condition of the KMT and the People First Party -- and their renewed majority in the legislature -- have obstructed an update of the reality.

The fate of these proposed changes in the wake of the pan-blue election victory remains unclear.

Still, there are some peculiar reactions to be heard around the world.

In a US Department of State press briefing last Monday, deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said -- with a straight face -- that "we are not supportive of them [the name changes]."

He added that "these changes of terminology for government-controlled enterprises or economic and cultural offices abroad" would appear to unilaterally change Taiwan's status, and for that reason Washington could not be supportive of them.

So, let us try to understand Ereli.

We cannot refer to Taiwan as "Taiwan"? We should instead continue to refer to Taiwanese companies as "China-something"?

This defies all logic, and we hope that the State Department will pull its head out of the clouds very soon.

China should actually be all too happy that Taiwan is not competing with them anymore -- whether it be for sovereignty, or a name.

Ereli also wants us to believe that changing the name of a company is somehow changing Taiwan's status.

Would this mean that changing the name of American Airlines or US Steel Corp changes the status of the US? The answer should be clear.

The situation is of course a bit different with the overseas representative offices. There we have a bit of a history to deal with.

When the US and other nations still had diplomatic ties with the KMT, these offices were referred to as an "embassy" or a "consulate."

When the KMT lost recognition as the government representing China, these offices were renamed, first to the Coordinating Council for North American Affairs, and later -- when Taipei became a bit more democratic -- to Taipei Representative offices.

So it is only logical: The names of these offices should be updated to reflect reality.

So we suggest that Chen move ahead and let Taiwan be "Taiwan."

Gerrit van der Wees is editor of the Washington-based Taiwan Communique.

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