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(forw) Letter to ISO-3166 Maintenance Agency Secretary about the Taiwan issue

Fellow Debian Developers and Debian Installer contributors,

Please find below a letter sent to the ISO-3166 MA (Maintenance
Agency) about the issue of the name of the Taiwan country. This letter
has been written after some exchanges I had with Martin Michlmayr and
has got Martin approval. I tried to give it a kind of "official"
status by writing it under my name and trying to make my best for it
to appear representing the current concerns which have lead to lot of
debates recently.

The intent is for sure not solving the issue but rather trying to have
some official position from ISO-3166 MA. The most critic point is
mentioning that though ISO claim they use some UN references for
choosing the controversial name and despite my best efforts for finding
these references, they are completely invisible.

----- Forwarded message from Christian Perrier <bubulle@debian.org> -----

Date: Thu, 6 May 2004 18:18:45 +0200
From: Christian Perrier <bubulle@debian.org>
To: countrycodes@iso.org
Cc: bubulle@debian.org, dpl@debian.org
Subject: The official ISO-3166 name for TW

Dear Sir or Madam,

This mail is written on behalf of the Debian project, an association of
volunteers from all around the world working jointly on a freely available
computer operating system, known as Debian GNU/Linux (see
http://www.debian.org for more information).

Debian is highly committed to Open Standards and has always used existing
standards for its needs.  This is why the team in charge of the design of
the Debian GNU/Linux installation software has decided to use the ISO-3166
standard as a reference for the list of world countries.

Like other computer operating systems, Debian GNU/Linux needs to prompt
its users about the country they live in in order to make several
technical settings according to this country.

This is why the official English and French versions of the ISO-3166
list are used in Debian. Other languages currently supported by Debian
(38 at the time of this writing) use non-official translations for the
country names.

Recently, the users from Taiwan have raised a concern about their own
country name in Debian. They are very upset by the use of the official
ISO-3166 name, "Taiwan, province of China".

After some research and reading the ISO-3166 FAQ, we have found that the
entry for TW in ISO-3166 currently uses this highly controversial name in
reference to some United Nations publications, namely:

    * United Nations Terminology Bulletin Country Names or
    * Country and Region Codes for Statistical Use of the UN Statistics
      Division as stated on

The United nations bulletin "Country Names" seems very hard to find
online. The only reference we have found until now is an unofficial
copy at http://www.cicred.ined.fr/acerd/pays_a.html for the UN
Bulletin nr. 342 from Jan 19th 1991.

This copy of the UN Bulletin, dated 1991, lists TW as "Taiwan,
China". The document, however, does not make it clear whether this
comes from the UN publication "Country Names".

The "Country and Region Codes for Statistical Use of the UN Statistics
Division" is available online at

This copy does NOT list Taiwan at all.

As a conclusion, Debian contributors and users are currently under the
feeling that the ISO-3166 standard is slightly outdated or biased
regarding its official sources when it comes to deal with the country
usually named "Taiwan" (code TW).

Because, this is a high concern for all our users and contributors,
we would like to know whether some work is planned by the ISO-3166
experts for dealing with this issue.

Knowing that this issue for using a proper name for the
country/territory/area designed by the two-letter code TW is probably also
a concern for the members of your organisation, we remain,

Sincerely yours,

Christian Perrier
Debian GNU/Linux installation system localisation coordinator

on behalf of the Debian GNU/Linux developers and users with agreement
of Mr Martin Michlmayr, Debian Project Leader.

PS : please mention whether you agree for the reproduction of your
     answer to public mailing lists. In the case you don't agree, we
     will send to these lists our conclusions from this answer.


----- End forwarded message -----


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