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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Taiwan's identity crisis
Thousands of pro-Taiwan supporters march to demand the government to change the island's official name from the Republic of China to Taiwan
The protesters want Taiwan's official name changed
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By Michael Bristow in Taiwan
To most people in the world, the leaf-shaped island situated just 100 miles off China's south-eastern coast is known as Taiwan. But for the island's residents, the issue is not that simple.

Taiwan's official name is the Republic of China (ROC), and in the world's sporting, political and economic circles it goes under a variety of sometimes awkward titles.

In the World Trade Organisation, which the island joined this year, Taiwan is referred to as the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.

And in a women's football tournament held last year in Taiwan, the island's team, despite the fact that it was playing on home soil, was forced to call itself Chinese Taipei.

Republic in waiting

This situation is a throwback to 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek arrived in Taiwan with his Nationalist forces after being defeated by the Communists in China's civil war.

We want to correctly and clearly be able to identify who we are

March organiser Chen Lung-chu

Even though he had lost, Chiang continued to consider himself the rightful ruler of China, and expected to retake it at any time, so Taiwan was referred to as the Republic of China.

Since then, the dispute over the island's status - whether it is an independent country or a province of China - has prevented any clarification on the name issue.

It is a situation which many people in Taiwan find intolerable.


Thousands of them took to the streets this week to demand the government change the island's official name to "Taiwan".

Backed by former President Lee Teng-hui, the protesters, many wearing T-shirts declaring "Taiwan is our mother", marched to the Presidential Office to make their point.

Dr Chen Lung-chu, one of the march's organisers, said: "We want to correctly and clearly be able to identify who we are. That means our name should be Taiwan and not the Republic of China."

Thousands of pro-Taiwan supporters march to demand the government to change the island's official name from the Republic of China to Taiwan
Thousands of people took to the streets

He said the island's current official name often caused problems, as it is similar to China's official title, the People's Republic of China (PRC).

"I think we should be called the Republic of Confusion not the Republic of China," he added.

Not everyone, however, wants the island's name changed.

Justin Chou, a spokesman for the Kuomintang party that ruled Taiwan for more than 50 years, is happy with the name Republic of China.

He said: "The government should concentrate on improving the economy, not bothering with changing the island's name."

But a majority of people in Taiwan would not be opposed to a name change.

Support for 'Taiwan'

Polls carried out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) last year found 70% of people would support a name change to "Taiwan" if the island could no longer be referred to as the Republic of China.

Women wearing t-shirts
The marchers wore t-shirts saying "Taiwan is our mother"

Tuan Yao-cheng, a research fellow at National Chengchi University, said: "When we use the term 'Taiwan', mainland China is not happy. They think it means we are moving towards independence.

"But, on the other hand, they will not let us use the name 'Republic of China' so people are angry."

The Taiwan Government realises the current situation concerning the name is not ideal, but it can do little about it until Taipei and Beijing agree on the island's future status.

"When we say 'Taiwan' everybody abroad understands what we mean. When we call ourselves something else, it often sounds quite awkward, but we have to do it for political reasons," said a MOFA spokeswoman

Small steps

Despite limited room for manoeuvre, the government has taken a number of small, but symbolic, steps on the issue over recent months.

The word "Taiwan" looks set to be added to the front of ROC passports to prevent Taiwanese people being mistaken for PRC citizens when they travel abroad.

And the government is looking into changing the name of its foreign representative offices, which cannot be referred to as embassies in most countries because Taiwan has official diplomatic ties with only 28 nations.

But until more profound political problems with China are solved - and the two sides are currently not talking to each other - Taiwan will continue to be an island with more than one name.

See also:

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China attacks Taiwan's 'warrior'
27 Mar 02 | Business
Taiwan denies China steel charge
03 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan breathes easy after Hu visit
15 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan health move angers China
21 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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