Taipei's decision to change its passport design threatens to become another creeping pro-independence move that will worsen cross-Straits relations, leading mainland experts on Taiwan studies warned Friday.
Li Jiaquan, a senior researcher with the Institute of Taiwan Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said:
"This unwise scheme can do nothing but hurt the already tense cross-Straits situation and build up mutual mistrust.
"Moreover, the proactive step goes against the common aspiration of the majority of Taiwanese compatriots for long-term peace and stability in cross-Straits ties.''
The researcher's warning came after the island's "foreign ministry'' unveiled a new passport with the word "Taiwan'' written in English on its cover.
The "ministry'' originally wanted to add "Issued in Taiwan'' onto passport covers last year. It was forced to shelve that plan after strong criticism from the Chinese mainland, which saw the proposal as an attempt to move the island towards independence.
Taiwan passports currently have the island's official name "Republic of China'' on the cover in English and Chinese. This is a legacy from when the Kuomintang (KMT) party ran the Chinese mainland.
Beijing, however, insists that the government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legitimate representative of the entire Chinese nation and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.
Taiwan's "foreign minister'' Eugene Chien reportedly argued that the latest change would help foreign customs officials and airlines distinguish between Taiwanese and Chinese mainland citizens.
The new passport cover will be issued in September after the stock of old passports is used up, Chien said.
An unidentified official with the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office said Friday that his organization has noted the new development but he declined to comment.
Professor Fan Xizhou, former director of the Taiwan Research Institute of Xiamen University in east China's Fujian Province, described the move as a blatant demonstration of separatist ideology by Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
That party, which ended more than 50 years of Kuomintang rule over the island in 2000, enshrines Taiwan independence in its party platform.
"The passport change is proof of the fact that the DPP led by Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian still clings to its pro-independence stand,'' Fan told China Daily.
"The move also reflects the island's lack of sincerity in developing cross-Straits relations.''
The professor added that Chen has been promoting creeping independence through a string of de-Sinofication moves in an attempt to create a "republic of Taiwan'' step by step since Chen took office in May 2000.
Researcher Li said that the "politically motivated'' plan is also designed as an electoral strategy to help Chen woo both pro-independence and moderate voters in next year's "presidential'' elections.
"The passport change is aimed at reminding the DPP's fundamentalist faction, consisting of die-hard separatist members, that Chen himself remains loyal to the party's pro-independence stance,'' said the researcher.
On the other hand, he noted, Chen has shrewdly managed to stop short of taking too radical a move, such as changing the official name of the island.
As a political trick to show off his implementation of a middle-of-the-road policy, Chen's cautious step to make only minor changes to passports is targeting voters in the middle ground who prefer the status quo in cross-Straits relations, according to Li.
Chen has been lagging behind opposition leaders Lien Chan of the Kuomintang and James Soong of the People First Party in the polls since those two opposition parties agreed to establish an alliance in next year's elections.
(China Daily June 14, 2003)