Two stories exemplifying Taiwan’s success in containing the coronavirus have recently emerged in the international media. There’s the donation of millions of facemasks and other medical supplies to countries with acute shortages. And there’s baseball, as Taiwan’s league is the only one in the world currently in action.

This positive press has also revealed the problems of Taiwan’s ambiguous identity.

China Airlines, Taiwan’s flagship carrier, was dispatched to deliver the donated medical supplies all over the world. When people watching news footage or photos saw the name “China Airlines,” they may have wondered why an airline from China was delivering Taiwanese supplies. When Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League’s (CPBL) season opened on April 12, some international viewers and journalists thought they were watching baseball in China.

The fact is that major institutions bearing names that claim the mantle of China yoke modern-day Taiwan to its past. Taiwan’s official name, the Republic of China (ROC), also reflects this increasingly distant legacy.

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Photo Credit: CNA

Players line up before a Chinese Professional Baseball game, April 13, 2020.

The branding of Taiwan-based institutions as Chinese can be traced back to the origins of the ROC. The ROC was established in 1912 by Sun Yat-sen, leader of the political party Kuomintang (KMT), which claimed sovereignty over China. The ROC, representing China, was one of the founding members of the United Nations.

The KMT’s impending loss of a civil war against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) compelled the leadership to retreat to Taiwan in 1949 as a base of operations to counterattack the mainland. Despite this, the KMT continued to claim to represent China, and harbored dreams of retaking the mainland during its first few decades of rule over Taiwan.

In 1959, the ROC government founded China Airlines in Taiwan, embodying its hopes of regaining control over the mainland. As China, which was named the People’s Republic of China by the CCP, emerged as an economic and geopolitical giant, the dreams of reclaiming the mainland began to diminish. But in Taiwan, naming institutions after China was still common enough in 1989, when the Chinese Professional Baseball League was founded.

The international visibility of both institutions during Covid-19 has led to a revitalized effort in Taiwan to change their names. The government has said it is open to doing so, though executives from the airline and CPBL have claimed that there would be significant costs and paperwork, especially in changing logos, trademarks, and contracts.

China Airlines and the CPBL are just two of the most visible organizations with words referring to “China” in their name.

Taiwan’s national postal service is called Chunghwa Post, with “Chunghwa” partially meaning the ROC in Chinese. The country’s national research institution Academia Sinica is also named after China in Latin, as it was formed before the KMT retreated to Taiwan.

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Photo Credit: CNA

Chunghwa Post mail truck, March 5, 2020.

The ruling Democratic Progress Party (DPP) attempted to change Chunghwa Post’s name in 2007 but this was blocked by the then-opposition KMT. This year, the DPP has also called for Academia Sinica’s name to be changed to a name that better represents Taiwan.

Logistical difficulties and financial costs must not be insurmountable barriers. The names of these organizations should be changed and not only for name clarity’s sake. The main point of changing these names is to signify Taiwan’s assurance of its national identity as a modern democratic country.

This identity has been further crystallized by Taiwan’s coronavirus response, bringing international recognition of its capable government and health system.

Few in Taiwan believe the ROC represents China in any sense. Many polls in recent years have shown a large majority, even as much as 83 percent, identifying as Taiwanese, with a very small percentage seeing themselves as only Chinese. Still, changing the nation’s official name is obstructed by the constitution and would provoke retribution from China, which may even use such a change as a pretense to attack Taiwan.

But for companies like China Airlines and the CPBL, changing their names is an easier task, risking neither a constitutional change nor major retaliation from China.

A minority of Taiwanese, especially those who came from China with the KMT in the 1940s and their descendants, may still feel loyal to the ROC idea. The costs of maintaining this tradition should be considered. China and the rest of the world, except Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies, do not acknowledge or officially recognize the ROC. As long as elements of Taiwanese society maintain the illusion of representing China, this will always be used to deny Taiwanese participation and recognition in international settings.

It should not be up to individuals alone to tell the world that “Taiwan is not China.” Changing the names of China Airlines and the CPBL would speak louder for Taiwan’s international status and identity.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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