Olympic Games 2021 in Tokyo: Taiwan or “Chinese Taipei”? The question has been sensitive for forty years and Beijing is watching.

Taiwan point to the Olympics. The 68 athletes of the island delegation have taken part in the events under the name “Chinese Taipei”, for many editions. And if this expression sometimes surprises viewers, it is the Olympic anthem that will ring out in the event of a gold medal. The blue and red national flag is replaced by a modified flag, showing the Olympic rings. China indeed considers this territory as a province in its own right. And beware of the odd. Beijing is systematically stepping up to the plate at the slightest use of the word “Taiwan”, considered a political slogan that calls into question its unity.

The result of a compromise, this name has been used for nearly forty years in international competitions, writes the Taiwan News (in English). Before 1981, the daily said, the delegation competed under the name of “Republic of China”, as opposed to “China”. The debate is not limited to sport, since the island participates under this name in several international bodies, such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The current situation is the result of an old arrangement found in 1979, during the so-called Nagoya resolution. Until now, Taiwan participated under the name of the Republic of China, and China boycotted the Olympics, upset by this dispute over the name. A compromise was eventually found to allow the two delegations to participate, but the autonomous island had to adopt a new emblem and a new flag. Taiwan still boycotted the Lake Placid and Moscow Olympics in 1980 in order to denounce this measure. But the island ended up signing a definitive agreement with the IOC the following year.

The name of “Chinese Taipei” therefore appeared for the first time at the 1984 Olympic Games, during the edition held in Los Angeles. Even today, tensions remain high and Beijing is not letting anything go. During the opening ceremony, Friday July 23, a presenter of the Japanese broadcaster NHK has also created a controversy by citing the name of Taiwan. The president of the island, Tsai Ing-wen, immediately complimented Japan on Facebook, calling it “good neighbor”. And did not hide his satisfaction to see “Taiwan stands[ir] on the world stage “, when flag bearers Lu Yen-hsun and Kuo Hsing-chun entered the stadium MP Claire Wang went even further, sharing her dream of “day when we can enter the stadium as Taiwan”.

Chinese tabloid Global Times, for his part, denounced (in English) of “dirty political stunts” and called on Japanese public television to show responsibility. It was obviously deliberate “, accused the pro-government Chinese media.

But another element of the ceremony received a lot of comment from regional media. During the parade of nations on Friday, the island delegation marched just before Tajikistan, following the order of the character “your” (タ) from Taiwan. Logically, however, it should have scrolled in the last alphabetical position, and after China, depending on the character “chi” (チ) from Chinese-Taipei. It doesn’t sound like much, but this order has had very concrete consequences in China. The Chinese broadcaster, Tencent, in fact censored the Taiwanese delegation by broadcasting a humorous video. It turned out to be a bit too long, and Chinese viewers … missed the entry of their own delegation.

The Chinese authorities are not lacking in international media treatment of Taiwan. Thus, they also criticized the American channel NBC, guilty in their eyes of having broadcast a card deemed “incomplete”, during the opening ceremony. “We ask the channel to recognize the seriousness of this issue and take action to correct the error.”China’s consulate in New York said in a statement. The nature of this “fault” is not detailed, but Taiwan was not shown on the map broadcast by NBC.

The question regularly agitates public opinion, in this country which always seeks to establish its international recognition vis-a-vis its powerful neighbor. In 2018, the Taiwanese were invited to express themselves by referendum on the issue, in view of the Tokyo Olympics. The inhabitants had finally rejected the name “Taiwan” (55% against 45%) during the competition, probably judging the risks too great. It must be said that the International Olympic Committee had brandished the threat of exclusion in the event of a change of name, recalling in a letter that this matter falls within its competence, in accordance with the Olympic Charter “. Many Taiwanese athletes were also mobilized in favor of the “no”, fearing to be deprived of the Olympics.

Protesters are campaigning in Taipei for the choice of the name Taiwan at the Tokyo Olympics in November 2018, shortly before a referendum on the issue.  (DAVID CHANG / EPA / AFP)

It is not certain that the name “Taiwan” wins in the short term, as the autonomous island has little diplomatic support. Only about fifteen States officially recognize this territory as a State. France stopped doing this in 1964 and only has a non-diplomatic representation with the island. However, this denomination of “Chinese Taipei” is still seen as an offense by some of the inhabitants.It is a dishonest name, imposed by international politics under pressure from China and the International Olympic Committee, accepted by the former lackeys of the Taiwan Olympic Committee “, denounces an editorial in the Taipei Times (in English). For lack of anything better, the important thing is to participate.

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