EDITORIAL: Time for Taiwan (Republic of China)

A post by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Facebook page administrator about the absence of the term “Republic of China” (ROC) on the nameplate of the nation’s representative office in Somaliland has again renewed the debate about whether “Taiwan” or the “Republic of China” is a more fitting designation for the nation.

The post was met with raging criticism from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which puts the ROC title on a pedestal, prompting a statement by President (蔡英文) assuring that the term “ROC” is not a redundancy and that bringing the “ROC (Taiwan)” to the global stage is essential to the nation’s diplomatic efforts.

Tsai’s stance shows that, as much as some people in the pan-green camp have longed to do away with the long-outdated ROC title, it is not going away any time soon.

The way in which Tsai refers to the nation has quietly changed from “ROC, Taiwan” — as seen in a letter of congratulations on the establishment of twin city ties between Yilan and Rockville, Maryland, last year — to “ROC (Taiwan).” Which designation the government puts in parentheses becomes a critical question, as different expressions will have different connotations in the international arena.

The current nomenclature used by the Tsai administration suggests that it regards “ROC” as being more significant, whereas the name “Taiwan” is parenthetical, almost an afterthought.

The use of parentheses implies that rather than scrapping the ROC title, the administration would opt for a middle-of-the-road approach — for which China will likely struggle to find a legitimate reason to protest.

Given that the two names are likely to coexist for the foreseeable future, it would behoove the government to get its priorities straight and review its use of parentheses. It should consider whether it wants to promote “Taiwan” or “the ROC” on the global stage, as the latter is too close to China’s official title and has limited Taiwan’s international space for decades.

When considering that Tsai has referred to herself as the “president of Taiwan” at several international events, the answer to that question becomes crystal clear.

The “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait has imposed many restrictions on efforts to help the nation achieve self-determination, to the extent that Taiwanese dare not even pass a referendum calling for the national sports team to compete in the Olympic Games under its proper name.

Moreover, the ruling party has refrained from removing the phrase “unification of the nation” from the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例), which is an internal law of which the removal would not have any measurable effect on China.

By comparison, formulating a meaningful and memorable designation for the nation is subtle and therefore more likely to succeed. This, coupled with a pair of motions passed by lawmakers last month calling for the redesigning of passport covers and fuselages of China Airlines aircraft to include more Taiwanese motifs, would greatly help the nation distinguish itself from China.

Reversing the order of “Taiwan” and “ROC” would be a minor change, but it would have a profound effect on helping the nation gain international visibility, and is worth the government’s every effort.

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