The long-simmering controversy over Taiwan's national title and national dignity was brought into the open at the Athens Olympics. At the historic moment when two Taiwanese taekwondo athletes stepped onto the podium to receive their gold medals, our country suddenly became "Chinese Taipei" -- the music that was played was not our national anthem and the flag that was raised was not our national flag. Yet the athletes saluted. With this absurd situation happening twice in the space of minutes, how could a reasonable person not feel consternation at the absurdity of it all?
To avoid confusing its American audience, NBC television clarified each time the name was used that "Chinese Taipei" referred to Taiwan. Japanese and South Korean television were more impatient and simply dropped "Chinese Taipei" altogether in its reports, using "Taiwan" instead.
It is therefore pleasing to note that apart from China, media outlets from almost every other country are willing to refer to the nation as Taiwan. But it is galling that media outlets back home and Taiwan's officials insist on using "Chinese Taipei." The flag with the Olympic rings, the plum blossom and the symbol of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is not our national flag, nor is the National Flag Song our national anthem -- yet there is an intriguing and disquieting willingness to accommodate them beyond the practicality of athletes being accepted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
There will be greater complications in 2008, when the Olympics are held in Beijing. Taiwan's national title and its dignity will be compromised. In Athens, Taiwan placed advertising in the airport and on city buses using both "Chinese Taipei" and Taiwan to increase international recognition, but pressure on the Greek government from China forced the withdrawal of the advertisements, despite the fact that their presence was the result of a perfectly legal financial transaction.
It is evident from all this that four years from now China will be most unwilling for us to use either "Chinese Taipei" or "Taiwan," and will accept only "Taipei, China" -- a name that puts us in the same category as "Hong Kong, China" and "Macao, China," which are in fact Chinese administrative districts.
China will only be content when Taiwan adopts a title that represents an acceptance of its own obliteration. Its attitude is so obvious that the public here and reasonable people in the international community will begin to wonder whether Beijing can be trusted not to turn the Olympics into a sledgehammer for its ultranationalist agenda.
In the meantime, using the name "Chinese Taipei" is as laughable as referring to the US as "America, Washington." It is meaningless.
It is highly unlikely that the IOC will accept a change of name for Taiwan before the next Games, but why should the IOC be held responsible for this in the first instance?
Any campaign pushing for a name change has to begin with our own media, officials and the people on the street. Only if the nation learns to use "Taiwan" to refer to itself -- and on the international stage in particular -- will China's tremendous opportunity to humiliate us at the next Olympics be hindered.