Forty-six members of the UK parliament have written to the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Global Partnership demanding the immediate removal of the word “China” from its designation of Taiwan.

Established in 1989, IELTS describes itself as “the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration” on its website.

In the letter dated January 28, the parliamentarians said the designation of Taiwan was changed last October to become “Taiwan, China.”

Taiwan listed as “Taiwan, China” on the IELTS Asia website. Photo: Screenshot.

“We are surprised to learn of your decision, as the designation ‘Taiwan, China’ is not only erroneous but also contrary to UK Government policy, and therefore request immediate correction to ‘Taiwan’,” the letter read. “Your changed designation is inaccurate and misleading as Taiwan has never been a part of the People’s Republic of China.”

“The reason for your decision therefore remains puzzling, as it is neither based on fact nor is it in line with the UK’s official position,” it added.

The letter was signed by two co-chairs of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group Nigel Evans and Lord Rogan. In total, 18 Lords and 26 Members of Parliament co-signed the letter.

Taiwan has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945 after Japan – which occupied the island for 50 years – was defeated in the Second World War. The People’s Republic of China claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces and does not recognise it as an independent country.

The letter said UK-Taiwanese educational relations were steadily increasing, with approximately 12,000 Taiwanese studying in the UK as of 2017.

“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 said.

“The decision follows pressure from China and is based on commercial interest. 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.”

Taiwan listed as “Taiwan, China” on IELTS website. Photo: Screenshot.

In response, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it thanked the UK parliamentarians for taking action to support Taiwan, and urged IELTS to correct the designation as soon as possible.

The website remained unchanged as of Monday morning.

Last year, Beijing demanded that international airlines comply with its One China Policy and change the names for destinations in Taiwan, listing them as regions of China. All commercial airlines in Hong Kong made the change to “Taiwan, China” ahead of the deadline in July 2018.

The US government called the demands “Orwellian nonsense” as US-based United Airlines found a creative solution by using currencies instead of country names.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.