Wed, Feb 07, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Name change proposal impractical

After the Referendum Act (公民投票法) was amended in December last year to lower the thresholds for initiating, seconding and passing referendums, it was inevitable that there would be a rush of intiatives.

That is what happened with the National Development Council petition system — a good idea and a wonderful tool for the public to voice concerns, but then suggestions were made such as changing time zones, which meant taxpayer money had to be wasted holding meetings and discussions on an idea that was never going to pass.

There has been a similar flood of suggestions for referendums — the easily forgettable Sun Yat-sen School’s call to reinstate morality classes and emphasize Zhonghua culture (中華文化) in schools as well as some political score-settling moves.

However, a more interesting item is the call by Taiwanese independence groups to change the name of the nation’s sports teams from Chinese Taipei to Taiwan for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The petition passed the first-stage threshold by a large margin — 4,488 signatures — which means the Central Election Commission must now review it. The next step is to get 280,000 signatures, which should not be that hard, because the name “Chinese Taipei” has long been a symbol of Taiwan’s international isolation and oppression by Beijing.

One does not have to support Taiwanese independence to get behind the name change.

Historically, the situation is the government’s fault. Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) balked when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1960 ordered the Republic of China to compete under the name “Formosa,” and athletes protested during the opening ceremony of the Games in Rome.

The nation’s team begrudgingly competed as “Taiwan” for the next two Olympics — a name that Taiwanese desperately want to use today.

After the People’s Republic of China joined the Olympics in 1980 for the Lake Placid Winter Games, Taiwan was forced to use “Chinese Taipei” for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and ever since. It makes sense that people hold the government responsible and want it to change the name.

However, what is the practicality of such a move? Even if the referendum passes, how do we convince the IOC to let the nation compete as Taiwan? How would China react?

There are so many questions on the most basic level that none of the referendum proponents have addressed. If they can lay out a concrete plan to convince the IOC, then a name-change referendum might make sense, but as of now, all the rhetoric is based on sentiment, with zero practicality.

It is an easy issue to get people fired up about, but then what?

Why make such a move that will anger China for no particular gain?

While symbolism is important, it is not like Taiwan is barred from competing in the Olympics or most other international athletic events. There are far worse situations, such as Taiwanese accused of having committed crimes overseas being extradited to stand trial in China.

Taiwan has enough practical problems to deal with that the government really should focus on domestic improvements while using its soft power to create alliances with other nations and international organizations.

Take the issue of UN membership, for example — if Taiwan absolutely cannot get in, the government should stop forcing the issue and look for alternative methods to connect globally, such as working with non-governmental organizations and providing a safe place for watchdog groups such as Reporters Without Borders.

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