Taiwan's Foreign Ministry has to recall some 200,000 new passports that mistakenly included a picture of Washington Dulles Airport. Photo: Handout
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry has to recall some 200,000 new passports that mistakenly included a picture of Washington Dulles Airport. Photo: Handout

Two senior officials of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were demoted on Wednesday as they were made accountable for a laughable mishap in which they mistook a picture of Washington Dulles International Airport in the United States for the island’s Taoyuan International Airport.

The wrong picture appeared on an inner page of Taiwan’s new passports, which went into circulation on Monday, drawing a hail of derision and memes from Taiwanese as they took a dig at the designers.

Some 200,000 passports that have already been issued will have to be recalled.

Bureau of Consular Affairs director general Agnes Chen, who approved the final passport design, and her predecessor, Representative to Canada Kung Chung-chen, were demoted and will face disciplinary actions, a ministry spokesman announced on Wednesday.

Dulles Airport’s iconic main terminal. Photo: Joe Ravi/Wikimedia
Taoyuan Airport’s Terminal 1 before renovation. Photo: Handout

A netizen on Tuesday said on Facebook that the ministry had mistaken the US airport for Taoyuan Airport, and initially, the ministry denied any such error.

The new biometric passports are meant to replace the existing ones with enhanced durability, security features and anti-counterfeit design.

“Chen and Kung oversaw the case during their terms as bureau director general and it was discovered there was oversight on their part,” said the spokesman, adding that other responsible persons would face penalties.

“We have to reprint everything rather than replace a few pages,” a ministry official told Taipei Times, admitting that the overall replacement cost could not be ascertained at this stage.

The cost of replacing the first batch of 200,000 passports is expected to be less than the reported NT$90 million (US$3 million), said a general manager of the Central Engraving and Printing Plant, which is responsible for printing the passports.

According to the bureau’s contract with the plant, one passport costs about NT$400.

It was revealed that the designer of the passport, who worked for the Central Engraving and Printing Plant, had used a photograph of the Taoyuan Airport’s Terminal 1 prior to its renovation as the basis for her draft sketch, but had later decided to “beautify” the design based on a wrong photograph that she sourced online, which, as was later discovered, was indeed of Dulles Airport in the US capital.

Before its renovation, Taoyuan’s Terminal I, built in the 1970s, featured a catenary curved ceiling similar to that of Dulles Airport’s iconic main terminal, which provides a wide enclosed area unimpeded by any columns.

The most visible difference, though, is that the Dulles terminal has glass-curtain walls on both sides while the Taoyuan facility has concrete walls. As well, Taoyuan’s control tower is not located behind the terminal.