Wed, Sep 12, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: New Olympic event: Torch tug-of-war

The stalemate between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments has continued for more than 50 years and it is often unclear to outsiders just what the two sides are fighting about or what they want. The ruckus over the Olympic torch relay is a standard example of how the two sides communicate and may offer some insights for the uninitiated observer.

From the outset, China has wanted to leverage the Olympic Games to showcase its national might and project the torch relay in a way that would bundle Taiwan up with Hong Kong and Macau, giving the international community the mistaken impression that Taiwan is a part of China's territory.

At the same time, China has been changing Taiwan's Olympic designation from "Chinese Taipei" (中華台北) to "Taipei, China" (中國台北). The Taiwanese government should not stand for such blows to its national dignity. It may well pull out of the torch relay altogether and consider an Olympic boycott.

After months of negotiations, China's Olympic committee finally declared that Taipei would be listed as "a city of an outside territory" and invited Tsai Chen-wei (蔡辰威), the head of Taiwan's Olympic Committee, to Beijing to sign an agreement to that effect. Although Taiwan had hoped to be listed as part of the international route, the solution was still acceptable to most.

This might have been the end of the matter, but when Tsai arrived in Beijing to sign the agreement, he found the agreement had been nothing but bait. New conditions had been added: Taiwan's national flag and anthem could not appear during the torch relay. Because of the changes, Tsai returned home empty-handed.

There are two lessons to be learned from this. First, China is not to be trusted. Even when an agreement is reached and publicly announced, changes can be expected. Raising the national flag and anthem at the signing of the agreement rather than during negotiations is a clear sign that China wanted it to fall through.

Secondly, Beijing's Taiwan experts don't understand this country. Requiring spontaneous public displays of the national flag to be banned as Taiwan nears two major elections is both humiliating and a violation of democratic rights. Such violations might be possible in China, but in democratic Taiwan, the right to display the national flag is a given and there's nothing the government could -- or should -- do about it.

By making such unreasonable demands, China even made the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate -- who favors eventual unification -- take an opposing stand.

Taiwan's involvement with the Olympic torch relay seems to have flickered and died in this process, which provides further fuel for local election campaigns. If the torch finally does pass through Taiwan, a lot of people will display the Republic of China flag and other flags offensive to Beijing. How ironic if images were to appear in the international media of police tussling with the public because the government would not allow them to display their flag.

Beijing may have tried hard to study public opinion in Taiwan, and more than once it has said that it pins its hopes on the Taiwanese public, but judging from its actions, it is clear that it doesn't have the first clue about what drives the Taiwanese.

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