Thu, Aug 09, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Flag removal was a silly mistake

Picture the scene: The president is about to make a speech to a conference of international delegates. Conference organizers scurry to take down the flag of a nation deemed hostile to the host country so that the president does not have to see it.

Upon finishing his speech the president is then ushered out of a side exit to avoid seeing a second flag, while the delegates from the "hostile country" are conveniently "out of town" while the dignitary makes his speech.

One would expect a scenario like this to be played out in North Korea, Iran, China or some other nation with Stalinist tendencies perhaps, but not here.

But that is exactly what happened on Monday when President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) arrived at the Taipei International Convention Center to deliver the opening speech to the World Congress of Master Tailors.

The reason given for the removal of the flag by the secretary-general of the Association of Taiwan's Master Tailors, the convention's organizer, was that the Chinese delegation was out of town. That was spurious to say the least.

China restricts where its businesspeople and tourists visiting Taiwan can go and what they can see, so listening to a speech by someone Beijing regards as persona non grata is forbidden. That could explain why the delegation was on a tour of Sun Moon Lake on Tuesday, but that hardly seems like a plausible excuse for the organizer's antics over the flags.

There have been many stories of Chinese working behind the scenes at conventions to eradicate all references to Taiwan, and Chinese officials or athletes tearing the Republic of China flag out of the hands of Taiwanese competitors as they celebrate victory at international sports events. But to follow suit just brings Taiwan down to the same lowly level as China, and sends the wrong kind of message to the rest of the world -- one of pettiness and intolerance.

Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) hit the nail on the head on Tuesday when she blasted the removal of the Chinese flag, saying that if Taiwan wants to earn the respect of others then it should treat every country -- even China -- in the same way we expect others to treat us.

Whether the organizers were acting at the behest of the Presidential Office is unclear, but if Chen was behind the move then it was not one of his wisest decisions.

The whole incident smacks of the White Terror era, when the mere mention of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) or communism could get one into serious trouble. It is certainly not what one would expect in present day Taiwan, a democratic nation that claims to hold the moral high ground over China.

The removal was futile because while erasing undesirable objects may provide temporary relief, it does not solve anything. China's looming presence will remain when the convention is over.

However frustrated the government and the people of Taiwan may be at Beijing's relentless campaign of suppression, they must not let it get them down, as acting in this manner only harms the nation's image and gives China the upper hand.

The only solution for Taiwan is to believe in what is right, stand up tall and face the nemesis, not resort to the kind of ritualistic, underhanded tactics that those on the other side of the Taiwan Strait so often employ.

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