President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) opened the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung in his capacity as president of the Republic of China (ROC) at the invitation of International World Games Association (IWGA) chairman Ron Froehlich last week. It was the first time in many years that Taiwanese were able to cheer and wave ROC flags at an international sports event.
The Presidential Office sought to downplay its significance, saying it was only normal for the president of the host country to open an international event. Ma’s followers went a step further by saying that it was the result of the president’s hard work improving cross-strait relations.
China’s relatively low-key response to Ma opening the Games is not evidence that cross-strait relations have improved. Neither does any improvement in cross-strait relations mean it was only natural for Ma to open the Games as the president of the ROC and that the audience could wave the ROC flag. Indeed, prior to the start of the Games, the IWGA was under pressure from Beijing and thought a Chinese official — not Ma — should open the World Games. Many still remember how Froehlich was angered by the display of an ROC flag at the press conference to launch the World Games theme song last year. Thus it was hard work — rather than par for the course — that allowed Ma to open the Games and let ROC flags into the venue.
Past experience shows that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) seem to consider it a matter of course that, at any international event held in China or Taiwan, symbols that signify or imply Taiwanese sovereignty have to be removed. This was the case when former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), as well as incumbent KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) and Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) visited China, and when Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) visited Taiwan last year.
When Ma served as Taipei mayor, the public even clashed with police over the ban on displaying ROC flags at a sports meeting. Frequent clashes between the public and police have only strengthened public sentiment on this issue. On Oct. 25, 600,000 people demonstrated to express their dissatisfaction with the government’s attitude. And on Nov. 6, Chen was stuck in a Taipei hotel as protesters demonstrated outside.
If not for these two incidents, if Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) had not called Ma “the president of our central government” during her visit to China, if the World Games were not held in a city with a Democratic Progressive Party mayor, and if Chen Chu had not striven to communicate with the IWGA, Ma would not have opened the World Games, nor would the audience have been waving ROC flags. However, even after Chen Chu called Ma “the president of Taiwan” in China, neither KMT members nor Chinese authorities followed suit.
The public used to think of the KMT as the party that spared no effort to protect national symbols such as the flag and the presidential title, while the DPP did the opposite. However, this only seems to apply to domestic politics. At international events, it is the DPP that safeguards these symbols, while the KMT tries to avoid or even remove them. This change in attitude has even affected KMT supporters. As such, although DPP members have fought for their right to wave the national flag at the World Games, very few of them do, and so only a few ROC flags are seen at the World Games.