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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 14:27 GMT
Taiwan passport change angers China
passport control
Taiwan wants to end confusion at passport control
By the BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has approved a proposal for the word "Taiwan" to be printed on the front of the island's passports for the first time, along with its official title, the Republic of China.


We can no longer allow one passport to be confused with the other... We understand the difference, but foreign governments do not

President Chen Shui-bian
Mr Chen said the move would make it easier for foreign governments and immigration officials to distinguish between Taiwanese passport holders and those from mainland China.

But the plan has angered Beijing, which suspects Mr Chen of trying to promote moves towards Taiwan's formal independence from the mainland.

Taiwan's president described it as simply a way of clearing up confusion.

The island's current passports bear only the words "Republic of China" - the official title for the regime which fled to Taiwan after losing China's civil war in 1949.

But Chen Shui-bian said these passports were often mistaken for those of the People's Republic of China, issued by the communist government in Beijing. He said this was humiliating and from later this year, the word "Taiwan" would be added to the cover of the island's passports.

Confusion

Taiwanese citizens have long complained about the confusion they often face when presenting their passports to foreign immigration officials.

President Chen Shui-bian
President Chen: Beijing suspects he is edging towards independence
Taiwan's foreign ministry stressed there was no change to the island's official title.

But for the leadership in Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, any change which highlights Taiwanese identity is seen as highly suspicious.

A Chinese official recently described plans for the new passport as proof that the Taiwanese authorities were moving step by step towards independence.

The fact that President Chen made his announcement at a meeting of a US-based organisation which has overtly backed Taiwanese independence will do little to reassure Beijing.

Since coming to power almost two years ago Mr Chen has called for better relations with the mainland and has relaxed controls on Taiwanese investment there.

Suspicion

But Beijing remains deeply suspicious of his background in Taiwan's pro-independence movement.

China's communist party newspaper recently accused him of travelling ever further down the path of independence.

The Taiwanese president last week bluntly reiterated his opposition to the one- country-two-systems formula applied to Hong Kong, which China has proposed as a model for Taiwan's reunification with the mainland. He said Hong Kong's leader China-backed leader Tung Chee-hwa seemed to be a puppet of Beijing.

See also:

31 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan logo change challenges China
03 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan tells China to respect election
01 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan turns away from old masters
21 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Q&A: Taiwan's relations with China
06 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Taiwan
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