Pro-Taiwan independence group lobbies US to make symbolic change to name of island’s Washington ‘embassy’

Lobbying group says name of Taipei Representative Office should be changed to make it clear it represents whole island, but move would be certain to anger China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 11:35am

A pro-Taiwanese lobbying group is urging Washington to change the name of the island’s representative office in the United States to refer to “Taiwan” instead of “Taipei” in a highly symbolic gesture that would anger Beijing.

The campaign to rename the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office – the de facto Taiwanese embassy in the US – has been undertaken by the US-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), an organisation that supports a formal declaration of independence from mainland China.

Coen Blaauw, from the Foromosan Association for Public Relations that operates under the FAPA, said the organisation was actively pushing for the name change but declined to share details, saying only that the effort was in its preliminary stages, the Central News Agency reported on Wednesday.

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“The representative office’s name makes it seem as if it only represents Taipei, when it actually represents all of Taiwan’s 23 million people, which is why we want this name change,” he was quoted as saying.

Taiwan’s representative offices in countries that maintain formal diplomatic ties with Beijing have formal titles that refer only to the capital Taipei rather than using the name of the whole island.

A switch in formal name of these unofficial embassies would inevitably trigger a backlash from Beijing, which rejects any suggestion that Taiwan is a separate country.

Beijing views the self-ruled island as a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland and it has never ruled out the use of force.

As cross-strait ties worsened in recent months, Beijing has stepped up the pressure on the island by peeling away its diplomatic allies and stepping up the pressure on multinational companies to refer to Taiwan as part of China.

It has also ramped up military drills around the island while introducing economic policies to “win over the hearts and minds” of the Taiwanese people.

The escalating tensions have seen Taiwan grow closer to Washington, which formally maintains ties with Beijing but has a mutual defence treaty with the Taipei government.

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In the past year, US President Donald Trump’s administration has signed the Taiwan Travel Act – allowing the highest-level exchanges between the US and Taiwan – and a National Defence Authorisation Act that includes measures to improve Taiwan’s defence capabilities.

Blaauw also said on Monday that the director of the American Institute of Taiwan, the de facto US embassy on the island, should be treated in the same way as formal ambassadors by undergoing confirmation hearings in the Senate.

His comments coincide with a visit to the US by a delegation from the Taiwan United Nations Alliance – a group that wants the island to become a UN member state.

It is the 15th such visit from the group – which is meeting US lawmakers and think tanks in Los Angeles, New York and Washington – to seek support for its campaign.