While the Netherlands Trade and Investment Office on Monday changing its name to the Netherlands Office Taipei is a much-welcomed development for bilateral ties, it was not that drastic of a move as some — including Beijing — make it out to be, as the name “Taiwan” is still not included in the office’s title.
The name change can be seen as a symbolic gesture, as it was announced on the same day that the Netherlands sent 3,999 tulips and stroopwafels to thank Taiwan’s medical workers on King’s Day, its national day.
It also came during a sensitive time when China has been under fire for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Taiwan, which has done a stellar job in containing the virus, has been offering its expertise and medical equipment to other countries — including the donation of 600,000 masks to the Netherlands.
As expected, China expressed outrage at the name change. The state-run Global Times newspaper called it a “provocative move” that is “destructive to regional stability,” saying that the Netherlands might face a backlash — including the suspension of medical aid during the pandemic, and the cancelation of people-to-people exchanges and certain trade projects.
This is the same publication that on March 19 called Taiwan’s pandemic control efforts “seriously flawed,” while lauding China’s efforts as a “miracle.”
Ironically, the Netherlands is one of the countries that recalled hundreds of thousands of faulty masks imported from China last month.
In a statement on Monday, it called Taiwan’s efforts “another Taiwan miracle” that has “deepened the friendship between the Netherlands and Taiwan.”
China has asked the Netherlands to provide answers. The official statement by Dutch Representative Guy Wittich said that the words “trade and investment” were dropped as to be more inclusive of other areas in which the two nations have been collaborating. China is not likely to buy that and it remains to be seen what will happen.
The office’s Chinese name (荷蘭在台辦事處) can indeed be seen as ambiguous, as it does not specify whether the character tai (台) refers to Taiwan or Taipei, but its English name spells it out as Taipei.
Adding “Taipei” to the office’s name should not be a big deal, as Taiwan has long been forced to compete in international events under the name “Chinese Taipei.”
Many other de facto embassies in Taiwan do this — for example, the French Office in Taipei employs the same word choice in both Chinese and English, as does the German Institute Taipei. The UK office made the exact same change as the Netherlands in 2015, but it reiterated that it sees Taiwan as a province of China and that Taiwan-UK ties are “strong, but unofficial” in response to a petition for the UK to recognize Taiwan in 2016.
China’s oppression of Taiwan should not be condoned under any circumstances, still, its anger toward Japan for changing its office’s name to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association in 2017 made more sense.
The latest debacle further highlights to the world China’s blatant and unreasonable oppression of Taiwan. Taiwanese and Chinese experts have said that the decision might cause other nations to follow suit.
Nevertheless, it is a positive step, as relations between Taiwan and the international community are growing, despite the nation’s continued diplomatic isolation.
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