Do Not Allow the Name Game to Undermine Cross-Strait Good Will
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 14, 2008
Emotions have been running high recently between Taipei and Beijing over the issue of Taiwan's participation in the Olympics. State Council for Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Yang Yi is changing the signs at the Beijing Olympic International Press Centre, from "zhong hua tai bei" to "zhong guo tai bei." His explanation was that the English term "Chinese Taipei" translates as "zhong guo tai bei" and therefore ought not to be interpreted as a case of Beijing "demeaning Taiwan." Yesterday President Ma formally responded to Yang Yi's statement. He said that the use of "zhong hua tai bei" by both sides was already the consensus. Introducing "zhong guo tai bei" would touch off a new round of controversy. President Ma urged Beijing "Don't be like that." This round of verbal jousting shows that although the two sides are eager to preserve the friendly atmosphere that now prevails, their bottom line -- what they are willing to tolerate, is coming into play.
Senior diplomat Wang Yi is a veteran of numerous diplomatic encounters with Taipei. Given his background, does anyone believe he could be so amateurish as to believe there is no difference between "zhong hua tai bei" and "zhong guo tai bei?" The term "zhong hua tai bei" has long been the custom for Taipei's participation in international sporting events. Changing it to "zhong guo tai bei" reduces it to the same level as Hong Kong and Macao. How can one not suspect Beijing of attempting to "demean Taiwan?" If Beijing really believes this is "a minor matter," then they have seriously underestimated Taiwan's sensitivity. If President Ma cannot get "zhong guo tai bei" changed back to "zhong hua tai bei," and allows the Olympic delegation to attend under such conditions, he will be blasted by the political opposition. This would compel President Ma to adopt a hard line on the matter.
Beijing's behavior is truly baffling. It knows perfectly well that a single word is enough to provoke a political dispute. Yet it cannot resist the temptation to give Taiwan a hard time. One really has to wonder why. Wouldn't it be better to allow the team from Taiwan to feel good about participating in the Beijing Olympics? Must it make them set out full of regrets, and return full of frustration? Moreover, the Republic of China national team has used the name "Chinese Taipei" to participate in international sporting events for over 20 years. The Taipei side is the one that has been forced to bend all this time. If it is now to be designated as "zhong guo tai bei," and demoted to the same level as the Hong Kong and Macao delegations, will anyone believe this is not an attempt to "demean Taiwan?" Put bluntly, if this problem can not be resolved in a reasonable manner before the opening of the Olympic Games in August, it will become a ticking time bomb.
The tensions from this controversy underscore the fragility of cross-Strait relations. To re-establish a friendly bilateral atmosphere will require much effort, wisdom, and patience. To undermine such an atmosphere however, merely requires one wrong move.
No one will deny that cross-Strait relations are currently moving towards reconciliation. Over the past few days, Mainland tourists have successfully completed their first trip. The Ministry of Economic Affairs is planning to further relax limits to investment in Mainland businesses. Restrictions on cross-Strait financial and economic relations, trade, and tourism have been loosened more in the past two months than they were in the past eight years. Everyone can see that authorities on both sides of the Strait are hoping to maintain this atmosphere. This has been the easy part. Whether such an atmosphere can be sustained over the next few months will be the acid test.
First, in early August, President Ma is likely to visit the Republic of China's Central and South American allies. His transit through the United States will raise the issue of Ma's status and treatment by Washington. It will attract Beijing's concern. It will become the focus of universal attention. It will be followed by the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September. Will the Ma administration continue to demand membership in the United Nations? This is a highly sensitive matter. Finally, there is the sticky matter of Washington's arms sales to Taipei. Word has leaked that Beijing is applying pressure behind the scenes. Add all these up, and it is easy to that the real test for cross-strait relations has just begun.
Many issues are interrelated. If Beijing deliberately gives Taiwan's delegation to the Beijing Olympics a hard time, and uses the Open Ceremony to woo the Republic of China's allies; if it uses President Ma's transit through the United States to embarrass him; President Ma will be hampered in his efforts to open cross-Strait links. It will then be impossible for President Ma to demonstrate good will in September on the issue of membership in the United Nations. The pressure he will face is entirely predictable.
Therefore, one must not underestimate the sensitivity Taipei has about the name it must use to participate in the Olympics. Whether "zhong hua tai bei" or "zhong guo tai bei" demeans Taiwan is not merely a matter of Chinese translation. It is not something the Beijing leadership can take for granted. It is something the public on Taiwan feels in its gut. In order to avoid more serious controversy in the future, Ma president is right to tell Beijing, "Don't be like that!"