Wanted: Taiwan’s National Capital

Up until recently, a brochure released annually by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated Taipei as the capital of Taiwan. Not anymore
Photo: J. Michael Cole / TT
J. Michael Cole

(Updated 2014.11.12)

Taiwan is one of those places that simply sells itself, blessed as it is with natural splendor and a lovely, dynamic, and welcoming people. It is little wonder, then, that just about anyone who visits it becomes one of its unofficial ambassadors, flag bearers for the protection of a nation that is unique and precious.

But as you invite family members or friends over for a visit, you might want to make sure they do not turn to The Republic of China (Taiwan) at a Glance, a brochure produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) for information about, say, things like the nation’s capital — at least not the current version.*

Produced annually in several languages, the brochure (once the remit of the defunct Government Information Office) is released in several languages to help foreigners acquaint themselves with the Republic of China. A worthy endeavor, no doubt. But under the current administration, products released by MOFA’s information branch have often bordered on propaganda (and here we mean the negative connotation of the word). Many of its publications have turned into mere mouthpieces for the current administration, while reporters and editors have often been told to skip certain subjects, or conversely, to focus on others. In some instances, the Central News Agency (CNA) has fared little better and joined the ranks of other media in Taiwan that fabricate information for the sake of getting a good story, or to glamorize (or demonize) certain politicians (e.g., see Focus Taiwan’s Nov. 10 article about the Ma administration “welcoming” Liberal International for supporting the president’s East China Sea Peace Initiative; LI never said anything about the Initiative and certainly didn’t have it in mind when it issued a declaration on the need for Taiwan to participate in negotiations on regional disputes at the conclusion of a weekend of meetings this past weekend).

Now something rather odd has happened to this year’s The Republic of China (Taiwan) at a Glance, the online version of which was released recently. Up until 2012, the brochure informed the uninitiated that Taiwan’s capital was Taipei City. However, the latest edition cites no capital, and Taipei City is listed under “special municipalities,” as are New Taipei City, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung. Taiwan, it seems, now finds itself without a capital … except, of course, if you turn to the Ministry of Education (MOE), which late last year suggested that in accordance with the ROC constitution, the capital of the ROC (Taiwan) should be, well, Nanjing, a city in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

A trusted source tells us that while the nice people at the MOE were debating where to situate the capital of the ROC (Taiwan), some high-ranking folk at MOFA (surely without even a hint of pressure from upstairs or coming from the high tower at the end of K-Boulevard) didn’t know what to do. Faced with this dilemma, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to simply not mention a capital city. Yes, the agency that is charged with representing Taiwan within the international community has done one better than the Burmese, who a few years ago hurriedly relocated their capital in the middle of the night. It disappeared it.

At a time when the PRC’s version of Chinese nationalism is in ascendancy, and when various elements, associated loosely or directly with Beijing, are intensifying their United Front activities in Taiwan with the aim of undermining its sovereignty and democracy, it gives us little comfort to see MOFA allow a few dinosaurs within the MOE — people who are completely out of touch with contemporary realities in Taiwan, who would turn back the clock so as to bring the nation in tune with their old ideologies — to influence their position on so crucial a matter as the nation’s capital, which among other things serves as a symbol of national pride. (Perhaps the next step by MOFA will be to substitute the title of president of the country with “local leader” or “chief executive”?)

Under assault from an increasingly assertive China, Taiwan’s government agencies must counter with clarity, not cowardliness; weakness only plays into Beijing’s hands and further confuses an international community that, sadly, doesn’t know much about the country. Doing so shouldn’t be too difficult, given that it would receive the support of the great majority of Taiwanese, “blue” and “green” voters alike (those who would disagree are the marginal extremists, among them gangsters and upstanding citizens who have made physically assaulting passers-by outside Taipei 101 a pastime).

Besides being an affront to our intelligence, MOFA’s deletion is an insult to the 23 million Taiwanese who know perfectly well where their capital is located. Nanjing or limbo it sure isn’t.

*Following publication of this article and after DPP legislators raised the matter in the Legislative Yuan on Nov. 12, MOFA updated the website, and Taipei City is once again mentioned as the capital of Taiwan.


J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.

One Response to “Wanted: Taiwan’s National Capital”

November 19, 2014 at 6:18 am, I'd Rather Not. said:

The GIO was always like that, including under Chen, though. I’ve worked with them and seen pieces squashed for being politically awkward or undesirable, despite being too bland to come anywhere close to that level.


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