UK parliamentarians urge IELTS to use correct Taiwan designation

A group of United Kingdom parliamentarians recently urged a UK-based English-language proficiency test company to correct the designation of Taiwan on its website, which currently implies the self-ruled country is part of China. (NOWnews)

TAIPEI (CNA) — A group of United Kingdom parliamentarians recently urged a UK-based English-language proficiency test company to correct the designation of Taiwan on its website, which currently implies the self-ruled country is part of China.

In a joint letter issued on Jan. 28 and addressed to the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), the co-chairs of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group; Nigel Evans and Lord Rogan together with 44 parliamentarians, called on the British Council, the chief manager of the test and its global partners, to change the designation of Taiwan on its website from “Taiwan, China” to “Taiwan.”

Calling it a surprise to learn that IELTS had made the decision to change the designation from “Taiwan” to “Taiwan, China” in October 2018, the letter said the changed designation is “inaccurate and misleading” as Taiwan has never been part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The parliamentarians added that the wrongful designation is contrary to the UK’s longstanding policy of referring to Taiwan as simply “Taiwan,” quoting UK Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mark Field’s public statement on the issue on July 10.

“The change has resulted in great confusion and protest among Taiwanese people and the IELTS community. Many Taiwanese students and professionals who take the IELTS feel their rights and nationality are being sacrificed,” it added.

The letter pointed out that IELTS has offered no public explanation for its decision.

The parliamentarians concluded that the decision was made due to pressure from Beijing which sees Taiwan as part of PRC territory.

IELTS apparently made the decision based on commercial interest, they added, urging the company not to bow to Chinese pressure.

“Although IELTS is a private enterprise, it should not have the terms of its business dictated by a foreign government. Succumbing to this political pressure undermines our democratic principles and harms the free operations of international business,” it added.

The letter further noted that UK-Taiwan educational exchanges have seen a significant increase over the years, with approximately 12,000 Taiwanese studying in the UK as of 2017.

“For many Taiwanese students and professionals, taking the IELTS is an essential stepping stone to study and work in the UK. If IELTS were to change the designation to ‘Taiwan,’ it may well allow the UK to continue increasing its educational exchanges with Taiwan,” it noted.

The letter concluded by reiterating its call for IELTS to reconsider its decision and amend Taiwan’s designation on the IELTS website as soon as possible.

Established in 1989, IELTS is one of the major English-language tests in the world, frequently taken by Taiwanese students before applying to study at Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand academic institutions.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) condemned the move by IELTS last year, criticizing Beijing for again “blatantly interfering with private-sector commercial activities and international business operations with political means” to suppress Taiwan’s status in the global community.

Foreign companies had been pressured by China to change their designation of Taiwan for years. In April 2018, China’s Civil Aviation Administration sent letters to 36 American and international airlines to remove references to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate from China on their websites and marketing materials. Bowing to Chinese pressure, most of the companies have since done as instructed.

By Tai Ya-chen and Joseph Yeh