The issue of whether to include an image of the Republic of China (ROC) flag on new national ID cards has sparked debate, with Minister of the Interior Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) on Tuesday urging lawmakers not to politicize the issue.
Hsu said that the cards have not always depicted the flag and most countries, including China, have never put their flag on ID cards.
Whether the card has the ROC flag is largely irrelevant, as it is only for domestic use, but there is not much of an argument for removing it if doing so would cause strife, Hsu said.
The new card was designed to protect personal information, which explains the removal of spousal information from the face of the card, but not the removal of the flag, he said.
A similar issue arose in the UK in 2009 when the Union Flag was removed from the national ID card there. At the time, the British government said that the decision was made to “recognize the identity rights of the people of Northern Ireland,” but members of the then-opposition Conservative Party objected and vowed to reverse the change.
Some have said that Britons’ ID card should have a flag for when they travel to countries in the European Economic Area, where it is accepted as a travel document. Taiwanese use a passport, not their ID card, when traveling to other countries, except China, where they need a “Taiwan Compatriot Travel Document” issued by Beijing — Chinese authorities will not even look at an ROC national ID card.
The only “benefit” of removing the flag would be to help “desinicization” efforts, but even then, the effects are debatable, as the card did not initially bear the flag.
Online commenters have said that Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) ID card did not have the ROC flag, or any national symbol or emblem. However, as people frequently use their ID card in daily life, removing the flag might benefit localization or independence efforts, as its absence might further erode the ROC from the public consciousness.
Those opposed to removing the flag are not pushing for its addition to the passport, which is seen by officials wherever Taiwanese go. The passport has the national emblem on the cover, and a small outline of Taiwan and the outlying islands on the inside back cover, but no flag. By contrast, US passports have a large, full-color US national flag in the background of the personal information page, while the Canadian passport has two small Canadian flags on the inside back cover.
The sensitive nature of the topic, and the range of opinions that the flag’s removal has stirred up, shows that the government should promote further dialogue. The card’s design has not been finalized and the government could still change it before ID cards are replaced next year. Moreover, the addition of the flag would be an aesthetic change — the card’s electronic components, such as biometrics storage, would not be affected — so there would not be a major overhaul.
The government should consider sending anonymous surveys to Taiwanese of voting age to gauge public opinion.
As the aesthetics of the card have little political or technological effect, but a considerable effect on public sentiment, the government would be wise to consider the majority’s wishes when deciding the issue.
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