Few days ago, it was reported that the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) will set up a new semi-official organization “Taiwan Strait Tourism Association” to handle the tourist business from Chinese visitors. The target is 1,000 people a day during the trial period. Procedural details is still under negotiation and is expected to complete by the end of the year and the first group of Chinese tourists will follow immediately. Business analysts predicted that if one million Chinese tourists were in Taiwan for an average of eight days and each spent US$150 day, the annual visitor spending would be US$1.2 billion, equivalent to 33 percent of the entire Taiwan tourist spending in 2004. My immediate response after reading this news is: language can work wonders!
The issue of allowing Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan has been under negotiation for a period of time. The reason that it failed to make any progress was primarily because of disagreement of the name to be used. China has long set up an organization to handle all cross strait tourist issues. The organization was named as Cross-Strait Tourism Association. Its counterpart in Taiwan was deadlocked in the namesake. Republic of China is a definite no-no since there is only one China. Taiwan is sensitive because the Chinese government wants to avoid any indication of independence when referring to Taiwan. And, the Taiwan government would not accept Chinese-Taipei because of the apparent implication that Taiwan is a part of China.
The name Taiwan Strait Tourism Association, as rumor has it, came as a suggestion from a lowly employee of the MAC. The idea came from its counterpart, China’s Cross-Strait Tourism Association. In Chinese language, cross-strait implies the Taiwan Strait. Thus, Taiwan Strait Tourism Association has two different implications, depending on how one looks at it and how one interprets the term. From the Chinese side, the word Taiwan, when used together with Strait, refers to the proper name of the strait–The Taiwan Strait and therefore, is acceptable. However, from the Taiwan side, the term Taiwan refers clearly to the “country” and “strait” simply refers to what the Chinese refers to as “cross-strait”. The difference in interpretation lies in the invisible punctuation, which was purposefully left out for easy interpretation and ambiguity. Obviously, the Chinese government reads the two words “Taiwan Strait” as the name of the strait, while the Taiwan government reads the name as “Taiwan, Strait Tourism Association”, interpreted as: the Strait Tourism Association of Taiwan, and Taiwan, in this situation, refers to the country.