Taiwan's parliament passed a proposal Wednesday to rebrand the island's largest airline to avoid confusion with carriers on the Chinese mainland. China Airlines (CAL) is frequently mistaken for Air China -- the mainland's national carrier -- and there have long been calls to rename it or make it more clearly Taiwanese.
But the movement received fresh impetus during the coronavirus pandemic, which Taiwan has successfully tackled. The self-ruled island has sent medical aid overseas as a diplomatic gesture of goodwill, often on China Airlines aircraft, sparking some public confusion abroad over where the shipments had come from.
On Wednesday, lawmakers approved a proposal asking the transport ministry to come up with both short- and long-term rebranding plans for the carrier, which is partly government-owned.
"The ministry should make CAL more identifiable internationally with Taiwanese images to protect Taiwan's national interests as overseas it is mistaken for a Chinese airline," parliament speaker Yu Shyi-kun said while reading out the proposal.
The motion did not set a timeline for when the airline should be eventually renamed, saying it would require further discussion. Some critics warn renaming the airline might provoke China -- especially if specific references to Taiwan are added.
Beijing views Taiwan as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary. It baulks at any suggestion the island is not part of "one China".
- Increased military threats -
The name China Airlines is a throwback to the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War when the defeated Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists fled to Taiwan. Their Republic of China -- Taiwan's official name -- set itself up as a rival to the People's Republic of China.
During the authoritarian KMT era, many Taiwanese companies often had the words "China" or "Chinese" placed in their names. Taiwan has since morphed into one of Asia's most progressive democracies and a distinct Taiwanese identity has emerged.
Another proposal passed Wednesday called for the island "to further enhance the visibility of 'Taiwan' on our passports". Taiwan's passports currently say "Republic of China. Taiwan."
A proposal from a minority party calling for the removal of the phrase "Republic of China" did not pass. Since 2016 Beijing has ramped up diplomatic, economic and military pressure because current president Tsai Ing-wen refuses to recognise the concept that Taiwan is part of "one China".
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu said China had increased its sabre rattling, with jets entering the island's air defence zone on an "almost daily" basis last month. He warned that China might use "outside conflicts to resolve its internal issues" such as recent flooding, the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and a slowing economy.
"We are very concerned Taiwan can be a very convenient scapegoat for China," he said. "Taiwan's government is handling these issues very carefully ... to avoid Taiwan becoming China's excuse to declare war or start a military conflict."