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Taiwan protests against Google Maps reference to China

We're quite clearly a sovereign state, okay?

The Taiwanese government plans to lodge its second formal complaint to Google over its use of the term "Taiwan, Province of China" on Google Maps, saying that Taiwan is a sovereign state.

"Taiwan is not a province of China. Google's reference is incorrect," said Michel Lu, director general of Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, today. A Taiwanese representative office in San Francisco contacted Google on 19 September regarding the name issue, and the representative office was asked two days ago to raise the issue again, said Lu.

"There has been no response from Google," he said.

Google officials in the US and in Japan could not be reached for comment.

The issue isn't likely to die away soon. There has been an ongoing name war between China and Taiwan ever since the two split in 1949 after a bitter civil war won by the Communist Party. The name issue, a small but important cold-war battleground for the two entities, raises passions in both places.

Taiwanese athletes, for example, can only attend the Olympics as representatives of 'Chinese Taipei' and Taiwan is known officially as the 'Republic of China' while China is the 'People's Republic of China'.

Taiwan clings to its formal title in an effort to maintain its self-rule and continue its development as a high-tech heartland of Asia and one of the most vibrant democracies in the region. People on the island argue that despite China's economic development, it still denies freedoms of speech and of the press, denies the right to establish new political parties and is often named as an abuser of human rights. China also retains a long-standing threat to attack Taiwan if it declares independence.

"If [Google] uses just the name 'Taiwan' we'll be happy with that," said Lu.

For Google, matters could grow even more uncomfortable, regardless of its response. Changing the name would likely draw cries of protest from China, while Taiwan will continue to demand a name change.

One Taiwanese political party is trying to whip up an email protest against the Google Maps usage, by imploring the island's 23 million citizens to make their voices heard by writing to the company.

The small pro-independence party, Taiwan Solidarity Union, has asked for the Google Maps name "Taiwan, An Independent State in Asia" to replace the China reference.

It's not the first time protests have been raised against the choice of place names on a Google mapping service.

In August, South Korean activists protested Google Earth's use of the term 'Sea of Japan' for the body of water between the two countries, arguing it should be changed to the 'East Sea'. It's an issue the Koreans have long been sensitive to, in large part after Japan colonised Korea early in the last century. The peninsula wasn't freed until the end of World War II.

Google Earth now refers to the body of water by both English names, the 'Sea of Japan' and the 'East Sea'.

Google Earth uses satellite images to provide a detailed picture of the surface of the planet, while Google Maps is designed to help people find their way around, and location data comes mainly from local map makers.


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