In the fight to assert its national identity and distance itself from mainland China, Taiwan has announced plans to release a newly-designed passport.
The cover of Taiwan’s passport bears its official name, “Republic of China,” leading to frustrating associations with mainland China. While Taiwan operates as an independent state, the Chinese government sees Taiwan as a rogue breakaway province that must be brought back into the mainland fold—by force, if necessary.
Confusion over Taiwan’s passport became especially frustrating during the coronavirus pandemic for many Taiwanese nationals, as mainland Chinese travelers have been subject to enhanced travel bans and restrictions.
Beijing has never wavered in its decades-long claim to Taiwan, the small, democratic, self-governed island, which has managed to maintain its autonomy thanks to powerful allies in the West.
According to Reuters, Taipei is also considering changing the name of its largest airline, China Airlines, to avoid misnomer.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry released images of the new passport design on Wednesday, September 2, and said the new design would take effect in January. The passport prominently displays the name “Taiwan” and minimizes references to itself as the Republic of China.
Foreign minister Joseph Wu agreed that Taiwan’s current passport often “confused” other countries.
“Since the beginning of the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak this year, our people have kept hoping that we can give more prominence to Taiwan’s visibility, avoiding people mistakenly thinking they are from China,” he said at a press conference unveiling the new design.
Chinese law and politics professor Carl Minzner noted in a tweet analyzing both covers that the move amounted to “careful identity politics.”
“In English, ‘Taiwan’ appears as the identity,” he said. “Puts Beijing in a bind. Shifts impression for foreigners. Keeps cultural/historic ties to diaspora.”
Ahead of the passport revamp, several Taiwanese creatives put forward their own redesigns, which were voted on through an online poll conducted by the youth-led New Power Party (NPP). The political party was formed after the successful 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, a months-long protest occupation of Taipei’s administrative district.
Out of 127 finalists, food was a common theme, given the island’s distinct culinary scene. One unique design even featured an image of bubble tea—a popular Taiwanese drink and a unifying emblem of a regional internet alliance between Hong Kong, Thailand, and Taiwan.
“I voted for the bubble tea and bird design because it was cute and eye-catching,” said Taipei-based graphic artist and student Momo Tsai. “There will be no mistaking us for being mainland Chinese anymore if we travel with a bubble tea passport. The drink defines us in every sense, right down to our youth political values.”
Flowers and animals were also popular design choices in the competition.
“A passport is an important travel document that defines one’s national identity. We believe that our current Taiwanese passport should be changed to better reflect Taiwan and distinguish us from mainland China,” an NPP spokesperson told VICE News.
“The aim of this contest was to allow our fellow Taiwanese to channel their imagination, creativity and passion into designing a new passport cover that better reflects us.”