Were it not for the need to maintain decorum and show Taiwan’s best face to the sporting world, the boycott by Chinese athletes of the World Games opening ceremony would warrant symbolic retaliation. No matter the reason for the boycott — refusing to recognize President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) at the ceremony, or just boycotting for boycotting’s sake — and no matter how predictable such Chinese behavior may be, the snub directed at a democratically elected leader and the country he represents was deeply offensive and violated the goodwill that underlies international sporting competition.
The irony, of course, is that the Ma government is relying on Chinese goodwill to enhance electoral credibility and thus is averse to retaliation of any nature. Indeed, hardliners in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus rushed to hail the snub as a masterstroke of cross-strait detente. Were it not for Chinese goodwill, they bleat, the Chinese athletes would not be coming at all.
KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇), one such hardliner, on Thursday praised negotiations between Taiwan’s Olympic authority, the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, and Chinese authorities that allegedly resulted in the boycott deal. The only sensible response to this self-destructive conduct is that the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee has, yet again, matched its incompetence in sports management with backroom mischief-making worthy of the International Olympic Committee itself.
None of this comes as any surprise. It is, however, becoming more and more interesting to reflect on what degree of insulting Chinese conduct Ma will tolerate personally given his typically pallid response to this snub — let alone behavior targeting the people he was elected to lead.
The World Games give China an opportunity to place itself in an attractive light in an international context, especially in light of the latest butchery in Xinjiang. These are, after all, world games, not an athletic exercise to exhort Chinese power and glory.
So, when the Taiwanese placard and flag carriers for the Chinese team walked out into the stadium with a large hole behind them where the Chinese delegation should have been, the insult was not just directed at Ma, or Taiwan, or the crowd that applauded politely and booed in roughly equal measure, but also at the other athletes.
For most, this incident will fade in the memory as the Games continue. For unificationists, it will probably lead to self-congratulation over the minimal backlash. For independence activists, however, the incident will add fuel to the theory that this nation’s president is prepared to subject himself to any act of symbolic denigration from the Chinese Communist Party in order to feed his obsession with Greater China and the economic and geopolitical confectionary it creates.
For credulous observers who would interpret Ma’s refusal, yet again, to take China’s bait as signs of statesmanship and strategic aplomb, the time will come when Ma’s effete and barren leadership will falter under direct acts of Chinese coercion, shattering their fantasies of regional stability and cooperation.
Ma’s presence at the World Games opening ceremony offered hope that he was becoming more willing to use his prestige as president in an international context. The Chinese boycott, however, reminds us that things have not changed very much.