Government officials yesterday maintained an extremely low-key response to reports that the removal of a Republic of China (ROC) flag from a display representing countries in the Olympics in a street in London was a result of intervention by the UK Foreign Office amid concerns raised by China.
Various reports carried by international news outlets, including CNN and AFP, as well as the London Evening Standard, a daily newspaper in London, said on Thursday that China was behind the withdrawal of the ROC flag.
The ROC national flag was replaced with a Chinese Taipei Olympic flag, the emblem used to represent Taiwan under the 1981 protocol signed between the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), stemming from a sovereignty dispute with China.
Under the rules, Taiwan competes in the Olympics under the name “Chinese Taipei” and is represented by the Chinese Taipei Olympic flag in Olympic venues.
According to an AFP report, a spokesman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) said that they advised the Regent Street Association (RSA), the organizer of the display, to remove the ROC national flag after a complaint from the Chinese embassy.
In a report in the London Evening Standard, RSA director Annie Walker said she “was asked if there was a possibility of changing the flag by the [UK] Foreign Office after discussions with [LOCOG]. Obviously China and Taiwan was mentioned and it was discussed.”
A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed to the newspaper that it suggested the RSA “talk to LOCOG regarding the flag under which Taiwan participates in the Olympics.”
A spokesman for LOCOG said “the complaint came in to the Foreign Office” and that a meeting over the matter was held between the Foreign Office, LOCOG and the RSA, according to the newspaper.
The incident has placed Taiwanese officials in an awkward position, casting doubt on the effectiveness of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “diplomatic truce” policy that calls for Taiwan and China to not undermine each other diplomatically.
Ma has not yet made any comment on the incident.
Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said Ma has instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to look into the incident.
While declining to confirm that London authorities removed the flag because of China’s pressure, Fan Chiang said the government would protest the move if China was proved to be involved in the incident.
“If the national flags were removed due to pressure from mainland China, it would not have a positive impact on cross-strait relations. The government would express our stance [on national sovereignty] to the mainland if that’s the case,” he said.
“The incident demonstrated the difficulty for the nation to expand [its] international space, but the government will continue [its] efforts,” he added. Approached by the press for a comment on the matter on two separate occasions yesterday, Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) walked away without saying anything.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) chose not to comment either. Throughout Thursday night and the entire day yesterday, Yang could not be reached by telephone for comment.
Yang said, via his assistant, that he was busying receiving guests during the day and attending banquets at night, and thus he referred questions regarding the case to the ministry’s spokesperson, Steve Hsia (夏季昌).