Taiwan Communiqué No. 100, February 2002

Dodging the issue on Taiwan passports

By Chen Mei-chin, editor of Taiwan Communiqué.

This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on 25 January 2002. Reprinted with permission.

On 13 January 2002, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Washington-based Formosan Association of Public Affairs, President Chen Shui-bian announced that "Taiwan" would be added to the cover of Taiwan's passports. The sound reasoning was of course that the old passport -- which has the title "Republic of China" on the cover -- led to frequent confusion at airports around the world, where immigration officials only too often mistook it for a passport from the People's Republic of China.

Passport issue
Commotion over passport issue: "You are suspected of smuggling political contraband."

The matter led to an immediate uproar in the Legislative Yuan, where the KMT, People First Party and New Party — opposition parties still in the majority just prior to the inauguration of the newly elected Legislative Yuan at the beginning of February — protested that this was equivalent to "changing the name of the country."

In Beijing, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, piped in with a protest that Taipei's move was an attempt to "realize the concept of Taiwan independence."

From an international perspective — and particularly from the US and Europe — this brouhaha looks ridiculous. Taiwan, which is internationally known as "Taiwan" cannot put "Taiwan" on the cover of its passport?

The problem is of course that Beijing — and its pro-unification lackeys in the opposition parties in Taipei — have been trying for years to portray Taiwan as somehow being a province of China. This is the equivalent of saying that because of historical reasons the US should be part of the UK.

The reality is that following World War II, the former Japanese colony of Formosa — which should have gained independence like other former colonies in Asia and Africa — was unfortunately occupied by the losing side of the Chinese Civil War. From his Taipei retreat, Chiang Kai-shek continued his rearguard fight in that civil war, leading China to perpetuate the hostilities which — continue to this day.

Chiang's latter-day successors in the KMT, PFP and New Party lost control over Taiwan political system when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) _ with its grassroots in the native Taiwanese population _ gained power in 2000, a democratic development which was further substantiated in the legislative gains made by the DPP and TSU in December 2001.

Instead of continually sticking their heads in the sand, these opposition figures should come to terms with the reality that democracy has taken hold in Taiwan, and that Taiwan can only gain its rightful place in the international community if it presents itself internationally as "Taiwan" and drop the anachronistic "Republic of China" title.

Even the "compromise" proposed by the Foreign Ministry in Taiwan is confusing: it adds only in small letters "issued in Taiwan" to the bottom of the cover, while leaving "Republic of China" plastered both in Chinese characters and in English across the face of the passport.

If it is really necessary to keep "Republic of China" there, one could have it only in Chinese characters (satisfying Chinese chauvinists), and have only "Taiwan" in English (leading to clarity internationally). This would be a pragmatic compromise.

Still, the matter leaves everyone abroad baffled at the ruckus over "Taiwan independence." Is Taiwan not independent? If so, on whom is it dependent? The 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States defines the qualifications for recognition as a nation-state: a defined territory, a permanent population, and a government capable of entering into relations with other states.

Taiwan fulfills all these requirements. Indeed, it has a population greater than that of 3/4 of the members of the UN. It is a de facto independent nation, and should be recognized as such. It is time the opposition in Taipei wakes up to this fact.

An open letter to Prime Minister Koizumi

The following letter was written in December 2001 in response to a disturbing statement regarding Taiwan by Japan's foreign minister Makiko Tanaka. At the end of January 2002, Mrs. Tanaka was dismissed by Mr. Koizumi. Her gaffe regarding Taiwan's future status was one of the factors contributing to her dismissal.

Mr. Li Thian-hok is a prominent member of the Taiwanese American community. His letter first appeared in the January 3, 2002 issue of China Brief, a publication of the Jamestown Foundation, a research institution based in Washington, DC.

Dear Prime Minister Koizumi:

On Christmas Day, Japan's Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka told a press conference: "I think the Chinese people have the wisdom of taking time concerning political issues. Hong Kong was returned to China and the situation was resolved quietly, and I hope the Taiwan issue will be handled in a similar manner. Japan as a neighboring country and the rest of the world should make efforts so that the issue will be resolved peacefully."

Japan's Foreign Minister?
Center guest: Please allow me to introduce Mrs. Tanaka, the PRC's ambassador to Japan...
Left guest: You've got it wrong! She's the Japanese foreign minister.
Answer: Oh, she is just moonlighting in that job.

Tanaka's remarks betray her ignorance about many aspects of the Taiwan issue. First, only 13% of the 23 million people on Taiwan consider themselves strictly as Chinese. A great majority of the Taiwanese have clearly rejected unification with the People's Republic of China (PRC) under the Hong Kong model of "one country, two systems." Taiwan, like Japan, is a free market democracy. The Taiwanese people have struggled long and hard against the Kuomintang dictatorship with blood and tears to win their freedom. They will not peacefully give up their freedom and willingly subject themselves to Beijing's repressive rule.

Second, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda reaffirmed that Japan's basic position concerning Taiwan remains unchanged: "There is a principle on how our country deals with this matter. As in the (1972) Japan-China joint communiqué, China asserts that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and Japan fully understands and respects this stance."

Japan's position is basically the same as the U.S. position which states that the U.S. "acknowledges" China's claim. Neither the U.S. nor Japan has "recognized" China's stance. Both countries have taken note of China's claim without formally accepting it.

As Japan's Foreign Minister Tanaka should have been aware of these nuances of diplomatic language. Her lack of diplomatic experience and sophistication means she is a liability for your administration.

Mr. Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party was right in criticizing Tanaka's comments as overstepping Tokyo's policy of not taking sides on differences between Beijing and Taipei. "As the foreign minister, she should refrain from making statements that may be interpreted as interfering in domestic affairs, which would exceed the government's policy," Yamasaki told the Nihon Keizai financial daily.

Third, Tanaka's remarks work against Japan's strategic and security interests. Each day hundreds of merchant ships and oil tankers pass through the sea lanes on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The sea lanes and the airspace around Taiwan are the lifelines of Japan and South Korea. If Taiwan were to fall into PRC hands, China will be in a position to choke off Japan's lifelines. Unless Japan wants to become a protectorate of China, offering its financial and technological resources upon demand to the new hegemon of Asia, Taiwan's security is ultimately Japan's security as well. Can a person who fails to grasp such an elementary strategic reality be qualified to serve as Japan's foreign minister?

Finally, as you said so yourself, the Japan-U.S. security alliance is the linchpin of peace and security for East Asia. The Bush administration understands the strategic importance of Taiwan to both Japan and the U.S. That is why President Bush has declared that the U.S. will help defend Taiwan, "whatever it takes." It is in America's interest to preserve the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, at least until the PRC evolves into a peaceful democracy. U.S. policy is peaceful resolution, not peaceful unification.

It seems clear Tanaka has not cleared her statements beforehand either with you, Japan's Prime Minister, or with the U.S. State Department or the White House. The U.S. has heavy responsibilities: to guarantee the security of East Asia while fighting a war against terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The U.S. does not need a Japanese Foreign Minister declaring a brand new policy which parrots Beijing's position and which is diametrically opposed to U.S. interests at such a critical time. Tanaka's careless remarks have undermined U.S. confidence in Japan as a reliable ally.

Mr. Prime Minister, we respectfully request that you formally reprimand Foreign Minister Tanaka for her wrongful remarks and also take the opportunity to re-emphasize Japan's neutrality in the dispute between democratic Taiwan and Communist China.

With best wishes for a joyous and prosperous New Year to you and to Japan.

Respectfully yours, Li Thian-hok

Back to: Table of Contents

Copyright © 2002 Taiwan Communiqué