Anger over virus sparks Taiwan identity debate

Taiwan has been praised globally for its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

But the World Health Organization still counts Taiwan's cases as part of China's.

The tiny island of over 23 million has significantly fewer virus cases than the neighboring mainland.

And the pandemic has reignited an age-old debate of just who Taiwan is and how it's tied to China.

It's left some in the capital Taipei eager to distance themselves from their much larger neighbor.

(SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) ARCHITECT, 32, EDGAR WANG, SAYING:

"I think it's a pity that Taiwan's epidemic prevention efforts are not recognised, because just like mentioned before, Taiwan is suppressed by China. I hope that Taiwan's government can toughen up, I hope for that, but I won't hold my breath because it's too difficult, because China is so big and Taiwan is so small."

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry says the WHO numbers are misleading, but the WHO considers the island part of China.

Beijing has repeatedly insisted only it has the right to speak for Taiwan on the global stage, including about health issues.

Taiwan says this has confused the world, and it's left some worried that limits on Chinese travelers will be imposed on Taiwanese as well.

(SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin AND English) OWNER OF BOOK SHOP "TAIOUAN SHOP", WU CHENG-SAN, SAYING:

"Because of the recent epidemic outbreak, there are even more friends hoping to be recognised as Taiwanese and not Chinese when traveling abroad."

Taiwan's complex relationship with its neighbor dates back to the Chinese Civil War, when the Kuomintang party fled to the island after losing the mainland to the Communists.

Taiwan's constitution still refers to itself officially as the "Republic of China."

But on Sunday, Taiwan's New Power Party released a poll in which almost 75% of respondents supported dropping the 'China' from Taiwan's passports.

Wu-Shih Chang was in charge of administering the survey.

(SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin AND English) GENERAL MANAGER OF TREND, SURVEY & RESEARCH CO., LTD., WU SHIH-CHANG, SAYING:

"The passport lets foreigners think that we are from mainland China. So they hope that the name on the passport can be changed to just 'Taiwan' so that everyone won't be mistaken. This proportion is the highest in history."

But Taiwan's Foreign Ministry has been hesitant about the passport idea.

It's sticking to its official name, at least for now, leaving the matter of Taiwan's identity still very much up for debate.

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