A month ago a friend came visit me in Taiwan. He (from Missouri, US) didn’t know much about Taiwan, and probably came because it was on the way to somewhere else. We didn’t really do any of the touristy stuff, because he wasn’t in Taiwan for a very long time, and I figured the best way to introduce someone to Taiwan is to have him/her live like a Taiwanese. So we just hung out, went to downtown for a few times, and ate a lot of really really good food. I tried my best to explain Taiwan’s political situation to him, and I could just see mounting confusion when I started switching between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.
It is confusing, because China means People’s Republic of China to the rest of the world. In the new Batman v Superman movie, Senator Finch told Lex Luthor that “calling a jar of piss ‘Granny’s peach tea’ won’t make the pee taste good.” Calling Taiwan the Republic of China doesn’t make Taiwan an alternate or real China to the rest of the world. Yet, because of international reality and perhaps a desperate attempt to cling onto the ghost of China’s glorious past, Taiwan’s KMT government has been having a row with its own citizens for the past year or so over the ROC passport cover.
The current passport of Taiwan looks like this:The cover has the formal country name in Chinese and English on the top, the national emblem (which has incredibly strong resemblance to the KMT party emblem), the word Taiwan, the word passport in Chinese and English, and then the symbol of biometric passport. This passport is accepted by most countries as a valid travel document.
Currently holders of a Taiwanese passport can travel to 137 countries and territories visa-free or can apply for a visa on arrival. But because of the word China on the cover, immigration officers of foreign countries that might not be so familiar with Taiwan’s political situation often confuse Taiwanese passport holders as PRC citizens and would insist on seeing a visa (PRC passport holders can travel to 50 countries and territories visa-free/on arrival). To help mitigate the problem, a cafe owner in Taichung founded the Taiwan Passport Sticker Movement and started handing out self-designed stickers that would cover Republic of China and the national emblem on the cover of a Taiwanese passport.
Many travelers utilize the stickers and have no problems going through immigration abroad, but the movement, which promotes Taiwanese independence and the establishment of Republic of Taiwan, apparently touched a nerve of the KMT government. Within a few months, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revised relevant passport laws to make it illegal to “alter or modify” the original passport cover and went as far as directing Taiwan’s offices abroad to discourage the usage of such stickers. Taiwanese citizens going through immigration in Taiwan with the stickers above experienced delay in passport inspection beginning this year.
Naturally, the move is criticized as a violation of freedom of expression. From a practical stand point, many countries don’t really care what the cover of a passport looks like. With more and more countries adapting automatic passport screening, what the cover looks like really doesn’t matter. In addition, foreign visitors to Taiwan that put the stickers on their own passports in support of the movement have been able to clear immigration in Taiwan without problems. Long story short: it seems the KMT government really doesn’t want its own citizens to put these particular stickers on their passports. Several members of the Legislative Yuan moved today to revoke changes made to the laws governing passports in the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
You would think the government would have better things to do than to regulate what people put on the cover of their passports.