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China Criticizes Taiwan Passport Move - 2002-01-14

China lashes out against Taipei's move to put the word Taiwan on its passports. China says the move is a step toward Taiwanese independence.

The official China Daily newspaper warns that Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's decision to change the wording on passports is an excuse to bring about Taiwan independence. The newspaper quotes a Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Monday as saying that China will pay attention to the move in the future.

President Chen announced Sunday that the word Taiwan will appear on the cover of the island's passports. Taiwan's passports currently say Republic of China in English and Chinese.

President Chen said the change is being made for technical reasons, so foreign governments will not confuse Taiwan residents with residents of mainland China.

But mainland China experts on cross-Strait relations say the passport change has powerful symbolic value.

Wu Nengyuan, director of the Taiwan Research Institute at Fujian's Academy of Social Sciences, said Mr. Chen's action amounts to public encouragement of Taiwanese pro-independence forces. He said Beijing will watch closely to see what develops as a result of the passport change.

Mr. Wu added that cross-Strait ties could be seriously damaged if Mr. Chen does not act soon to stop pro-independence activities, or if he further encourages those who support Taiwan's independence.

Last month, Mr. Chen's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won a huge victory in legislative elections. The win dealt a blow to the opposition Kuomintang Party, which favors eventual union with China.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its territory, and has threatened to use force to reunite the island with the mainland.