KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – A few years ago, I flew into Maastricht in the Netherlands with my Taiwanese wife and brother-in-law. After an uneventful flight, we passed through the small and quiet arrivals terminal and reached passport control.
"Why don’t you have a visa?" my travel companions were asked. "All visitors from China need a visa to enter the Netherlands."
They both gave a weary sigh. As regular travelers, it was an experience they had encountered many times before.
But this time, despite explaining the Republic of China (Taiwan) was a separate country to the People’s Republic of China (China) and that, as signatories to the Schengen Agreement, Taiwanese do not need a visa to enter EU countries, the border agents were having none of it. We were swiftly escorted to the airport police station and their passports were taken away while further checks were carried out.
A long wait ensued, something both of them grimly accepted as par for the course. Half an hour or so later, passports were returned, embarrassed apologies were made, and we were all welcomed to the Netherlands and told to enjoy our stay.
This incident occurred at a time when Taiwan passports only said "Republic of China" on the cover. I have spoken to a number of well-traveled Taiwanese associates since then and am reliably informed that such incidents are still far from uncommon.
It is frustrating and embarrassing for Taiwanese people to be treated in such a way when arriving in a country. It is profoundly wrong that they should be inconvenienced and humiliated because of the myriad of failings of their totalitarian neighbor.
This is no doubt why so many Taiwanese people were elated when the new passport design was unveiled this week. The design places the English word "Taiwan" front and center, in a huge font, while the name Republic of China is relegated to a small font circling the white sun logo.
It is a relatively modest change, but one that should ensure the type of incident we faced in Maastricht becomes an extremely rare occurrence.
As with all decisions of this kind, there has been some criticism. The KMT threw out a weak line about revisionism and claimed it was a partisan decision, overlooking the clear practical benefits the change will bring to many Taiwanese travelers.
Others argued the government could have been more ambitious and pointed to the New Power Party’s recent competition for a new passport cover design. This garnered some beautiful and highly creative designs, including my personal favorite, "The Diverse Land," which used colorful dots to draw a map of Taiwan.
While there was plenty of merit to these designs, the government also has to bear in mind the significant diplomatic sensitivities that surround Taiwan's national identity. Even if they have clear personal views, as a responsible national administration, they still have to tread the diplomatic tightrope.
The new design they have come up with makes subtle and diplomatic changes. The fact the country’s full official name, Republic of China, remains on the passport in large traditional Mandarin characters at the top of the cover and only the English wording has been altered, should satisfy Taiwanese of all political persuasions.
Indeed, the weakness of the KMT critique of the new design is a clear indicator of what a good job the government has made of the changes. This is a practical design intended to ensure that border agents and people around the world are clear that they are looking at a passport from Taiwan and not China.
It is hard to see how this design will not achieve this. It is part of a strategy from the government to create a brand for Taiwan that is clearly distinct from China and makes it far easier for Taiwanese to identify as Taiwanese both at home and abroad.
This is vitally important, especially at a time when the goggles are coming off and many people around the world are starting to see the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for the totalitarian, human-rights-abusing, destabilizing, and dangerous regime that it is.
Now it is time to turn to China Airlines and ensure that Taiwan’s national carrier has a name that recognizes its true origins. Failure to do so will see its business start to struggle as the process of de-sinicization begins to take hold across the globe.