Contrary to what President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would have us believe, Taiwan’s breakthroughs and successes at home and abroad are not always contingent on Beijing’s “goodwill.”
An example of this is the ongoing World Police and Fire Games in Vancouver — where the Taiwanese team is participating under the name “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei,” the usual formulation at international events — which were first held in 1985. At the opening ceremony on Friday, the Republic of China flag was on full display and drew loud cheers from the audience.
The National Police Agency said that its persistent requests and those of Taiwan’s representative office in Vancouver, as well as the goodwill of the host country — Canada — helped to achieve the use of the name “Taiwan” at the Games. This shows that when the conditions are right, Taiwan can make its presence abroad felt and can do so with dignity.
The event Web site says that to be eligible to compete at the Games, participants must be law enforcement or firefighting personnel employed by “any duly organized governmental sub-division, such as municipal, provincial/state, national, etc.” On Monday, the National Police Agency said in a press release that Taiwan’s 49-member team was organized by the National Police Agency and the National Fire Agency, which means Taiwan’s eligibility had been assessed on a national basis.
Some factors that made this possible include the fact that the Games are being held in Canada, a liberal democracy that, under the administration of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has shown an occasional willingness to upset Beijing. The large and influential Taiwanese community in British Columbia probably played a role as well.
This contrasts with venues where Beijing has more political clout, such as the World Games in Kaohsiung last month and the Asian Martial Arts Games that opened in Bangkok on Saturday. Given that China is Thailand’s second-largest trade partner (bilateral trade was estimated at US$41 billion in 2007) and given its membership in ASEAN, which by next year is expected to become China’s third-largest trade partner (trade between China and ASEAN countries was US$231 billion last year), it is obvious that even if the organizers of the Martial Arts Games wanted to show goodwill to the Taiwanese team, their hands would be tied by Beijing.
Bilateral trade between Canada and China last year, meanwhile, was estimated at US$34.52 billion, less than that between Thailand and China and lagging far behind the US$560 billion US-Canada bilateral figure for 2007. As such, Beijing’s ability to influence Canada on its own turf is far less than that in Thailand.
This situation should be noted by Taiwanese who endeavor to increase the nation’s image abroad, as it could serve as an indicator for fights that are winnable and those that should be avoided. In areas where Chinese political and economic influence is minimal, and where the Taiwanese community has little influence, efforts to secure Taiwanese dignity by having teams participate as “Taiwan” should be avoided. When the conditions are ripe, however — and Vancouver is a perfect example — Taiwanese and their supporters should go all out to ensure that the nation’s colors are displayed proudly.
Judging by the warm welcome the team received on Friday, there are a lot of people out there rooting for a dignified Taiwan.