Friday, April 27, 2007

IHT: Taiwan Refuses Olympic Torch

It's all over the news, so go see it for yourself: Taiwan has become the first nation to ever refuse the Olympic Torch:

Within hours of Beijing's announcement Thursday of what would be the longest torch relay in Olympic history — a 137,000-kilometer (85,000-mile), 130-day route that would cross five continents and scale Mount Everest — Taiwan rejected being included.

"It is something that the government and people cannot accept," Tsai Chen-wei, the head of Taiwan's Olympic Committee, said in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.

The episode underscores the deep mistrust between Beijing and Taipei, antagonists in an unresolved civil war, and how entwined the Olympics become with politics.

Aside from Taiwan, the torch is also supposed to pass through another political hotspot, the Himalayan region of Tibet which China has controlled for 57 years, often with heavy-handed rule. Four American activists were detained by Chinese authorities Wednesday on Mount Everest after they unfurled a banner calling for Tibet's independence.

So what's interesting? Well, everyone knows that China seeks to annex Taiwan, so naturally, they sent the torch through Taiwan and thence to Hong Kong and into China, a "domestic" route. More interesting than that, though, are the two stops prior to that, Vietnam and North Korea. The Taiwan News reported yesterday:

Wu Ching-kuo (吳經國), Taiwan's sole IOC member, urged the public not to link the torch to politics, stressing that the torch relay should be a purely athletic event.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Wu said that he thought the route proposed by Beijing was reasonable. He said that because the land of North Korea and the land of Vietnam are both connected to mainland China, Wu said, Beijing decided that the torch should pass through Pyongyang and Ho Chi Minh City before entering Taipei.

Korea and Vietnam are both places that China has traditionally viewed as culturally subordinate to China. In recent years China and Vietnam have been adjudicating a new boundary, one that activists in Hanoi claim gives too much land to China. There was also a flap a couple of years ago about Chinese claims to Korea via slanted claims about Korea history.

It is clear that Beijing considers this route between Taiwan and Hong Kong a domestic one. The question is, what other parts of the route are seen as domestic in Beijing?


channing said...

FYI, there's an interesting map of the torch route if you haven't seen it already, an international map and a Chinese map. The domestic route map contains mainland China and Taiwan (awkwardly labelled "Taiwan, China"). An arrow from the south is labelled, "Previous stop: Ho Chi Minh City"

MJ Klein said...

good! its about time Taiwan said no to Olympian politics.

Anonymous said...

The fact that it goes from Pyongyang to Ho Chi Minh City and then to Taiwan makes it clear that Taiwan is to be seen as a domestic route. It is the only time on the route when such a detour is made.

Here's the route map from the official torch relay website:

Were it to come here straight from North Korea at least Taiwan could make the face-saving argument that it was the logical route to China.

I'm a big fan of the Olympics in general, but have always been completely bored by the whole torch relay palaver. If it doesn't come here, I don't think we're missing out on much.

Audrey C. said...

I'm really rather distressed by this. It's not a good label for Taiwan to have at all, even though I agree with the sentiments of the lawmakers.

Also, don't know if you've seen this, but Taiwan's not the only ones protesting the Olympic torch route.

The road to the '08 Olympics will certainly be very interesting.

Anonymous said...


That's right, now you're on to the game plan. Your clarity of mind is remarkable.

Didn't you see that the only US city included in the torch route is San Francisco, with a population that's more than 30%+ Chinese?

As soon as we're done with Taiwan, San Francisco will be declaring its own independence, and joining the greater Chinese nation.

Kevin said...

Interesting article. Some of my students brought it up in class last night. Its always a topic to energize a dead class. Interesting point about the claims to Korean and Vietnamese land. One never knows what Beijing will think of next.

Anonymous said...

Wu Ching-kuo (吳經國), Taiwan's sole IOC member, urged the public not to link the torch to politics.

What a total ignoramus numbskull. Has he forgotten that the entire foundation (name, flag and anthem) of Taiwan's Olympic participation has been political subverted to begin with?

The Taiwanese should have boycotted the Olympics when the anti-secession law was passed by China.

skiingkow said...

Wow! I haven't been to your site in awhile, Michael, and this is the first thing I see. Excellent!!

This will be great PR for Taiwan. During the games, this will most definitely come up a few times in the western press.

Listen to this putz:

The vice-president of the IOC's Co-ordination Commission for Beijing, Kevan Gosper, weighed in from Melbourne, accusing Taiwan of being ungrateful.

"Given the special position we've delivered to Taiwan's national Olympic committee, to sustain their position in the Olympic movement alongside China, I think it behoves Taiwan to accommodate matters Olympic and particularly something as important as the torch relay," Mr Gosper said.

Can you believe that! It "behoves (sic) Taiwan to accomodate"?!! Who the hell is threatening annexation?!!! Who is the one using this torch relay for political purposes, when Taiwan has explicitly given warning that it wouldn't accept this route for quite some time.

I think it "behooves" the IOC to prove that this relay route is NOT a political stunt by China when they know damn well what the situation is!

Biomed Tim said...

The DPP leaders have got to accept the the fact that Taiwan and China are NOT equals when playing these political games: China clearly is the dominant figure and has the upper hand.

The Olympic torch, (much like the pandas) is clearly a lose-lose situation for Taiwan. Where the Chen administration bungled is in assessing which "lose" was the lesser of two evils.

In my opinion, they deluded themselves into thinking that refusing the torch was going to somehow preserve Taiwan's sovereignty. They also miscalculated how much they have to lose by taking the torch, due to the slippery-slope-fallacy. (i.e. if X happens, then Y will inevitably happen)

More practiced statesmen would've recognized this as a unique opportunity to launch a never-seen-before PR campaign. The coverage of the torch would've allowed Taiwan to gain the type of int'l exposure that's been missing since Chen got elected the first time.

Taiwan could've used that chance to showcase how the Taiwanese are indeed DIFFERENT from the mainland Chinese. Imagine the international media showing a torch-carrier wearing green DPP headbands and a sea of on-lookers chanting "台灣萬歲" on either side of the streets!

Instead, the policy makers just played right into China's hands and ended up looking silly. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

I wish they would quit that garbage about a civil war. It makes it sound like Taiwan fought against China at some point.

It was someone else's war that expelled the losers, the Chinese KMT, to a Taiwan that could not yet defend itself from foreign occupiers.

Anonymous said...

Taiwan may become known as the only country to refuse the torch...but of course only inside Taiwan. Outside of Taiwan, it will merely be the only SAR in China to refuse the torch.

In one way, I can agree that if Beijing is going to go out of its way to inject politics and propaganda into every possible aspect of the 2008 Olympics, AND if the International Olympic Committee is going to allow Beijing to do that, then Taiwan should just boycott the torch and the games.

But if the torch does come here, think of the opportunities it would present for creative protests and displays of the wide-open civil society that makes Taiwan such a contrast with China and its SARs. For at least a day or two, the world might be able to get a look what at people think here.

Or not. What's to say that the big media organizations would pay any more attention to Taiwan if the torch was here, than they do normally.

Maybe the torch could be "held" here, until Beijing agress to allow Taiwan to participate in the Olympics as Taiwan, instead of under the name of a place that does not even exist.

Now, THAT might create some real excitement...

Runsun said...

"It is clear that Beijing considers this route between Taiwan and Hong Kong a domestic one. The question is, what other parts of the route are seen as domestic in Beijing?"

They don't just considered that, they already announced that it is a "境外路線" (I am not sure how to translate this, it's something like "beyond boundary route") that is definitely not and shouldn't be confused with a "國際路線" (international route")

Runsun said...

The map of China's domestic route of Olympic torch

The political implication is crystal clear.

channing said...

"But if the torch does come here, think of the opportunities it would present for creative protests and displays of the wide-open civil society that makes Taiwan such a contrast with China and its SARs. For at least a day or two, the world might be able to get a look what at people think here."

Sir/Madam, you have no idea how open, free, mature and CIVILIZED China's SARs are--at least the last one is debatable for Taiwan's society. Please do some research before you are taken over by anti-China slogans, as the deep greens would want you to believe.

It's already a generalization to say that mainland China is a society of repression. Anybody in Taiwan who thinks China's SARs are repressed is clearly in denial.

Anonymous said...

From Scott:

Dear Sir/Madame Channing:

No, I haven't spent a lot of time in the China-controlled (CCP-controlled) SARs, other than short trips to HK and Macau,
but I think I have a pretty good idea about how the politcial climate and civil society differs between these places and Taiwan.

I have had the opportnity to participate in quite a few very large-scale demonstrations and protests in Taiwan-- both those organized
by the so-called greens and those organized by the pro-China opposition. I have also seen the election process up close. Those are
obviously things that don't and can't happen in China or its SARs.

Yes, I am aware that there occasionally large-ish demonstrations in HK, but the unfortunate difference is that the citizens there
know that they do not actually have any real influence over the political process.

One thing I am curious about is why it seems that so many people in Hong Kong seem to have such a negative opinion of Taiwan,
its government, its democracy and its civil society --including many Hong Kong citizens who want democracy in Hong Kong.

Or am I wrong about that? If perhaps you are from one of the SARs, perhaps you could shed some light on this.

Anonymous said...

Taiwan should only agree to the torch route on the condition that Taiwan is seen as an international route and not a domestic route and leave it to China to accept or refect this offer...of course China will reject it but this will make China look uncompliant rather than Taiwan and also publicize Taiwan's quest for official independance.


channing said...

A pleasure, Scott. What you observed of HK/Macau is actually a rather interesting topic. I have my opinions of SAR politics and Taiwan politics, but let me take a look as factually as I can:

The SARs: Actually, the impression that the CCP controls HK & Macau is quite surprising. I'd think the CCP has no idea how to run such advanced societies as HK and Macau, which is why they are left to run themselves with the Chinese nation as the sovereign, and little else.

Beijing: Its only fear is secession and submission to foreign powers. Before HK and Macau elect their leaders, it wants to be assured that they won't elect secessionists. And so far their worries continue to be calmed, for the SAR residents are quite proud of being fully Chinese. Beijing's relative ease allowed CE Tsang to make concrete promises on HK suffrage in his March "election" campaign.

Election process: I'm not sure about Macau, but I do frequent HK (I grew up there in the colonial days). The problem with Hong Kong achieving direct elections is the lack of a roadmap towards suffrage. Beijing requires a detailed plan and refuses an immediate shakedown of the entire SAR political system. After years of delay, HKSAR finally started public consultations on viable plans to move towards direct elections last month. It can be said that these delays were due to lack of popular understanding on democracy.

Protests: Both Chinese SARS experience regular protests ranging on various issues. Not only democracy, but also issues that directly affect their health, wealth, etc. They are protesting because they believe they can make a difference, just like anywhere else. I don't feel that HKers have it any different from other societies of high civil liberty.

HKers on TW politics: This is interesting; I'll give you my two cents. Despite wanting elected top officials, HKers are mixed on Taiwan's democracy. Why? First and most obvious, HKers see legislators fighting on TV and some will think: What is democracy without civility? And are the legislators brawling to serve the people or serve their own agendas? Second, the scandals surrounding various ROC politicians cast a negative image on democracy in Taiwan; if they're all like this, who ensures that the elections are fair? Third, the ethnic tension in Taiwan is perceived to be worse than before, especially these past few years after democratic transition. Many HKers are of Taiwan descent and, due to the KMT era, can only speak Mandarin. They come back to HK from a Taiwan trip and tell of political/ethnic discrimination (I have such an aunt; she got booted from a taxi in KH for not speaking Taiwanese--but I've heard worse), and stories become sensationalized in gossip. These (and others) are reasons and experiences that I have for what you saw, and if you chat up some of the numerous expats in HK, they might have more for you.

Ha, we're off topic. About that torch route...

Anonymous said...

To Channing:

I frequently bring up the topic, and after several years in Taiwan, I have yet to hear anybody in Taiwan say anything negative about Hong Kong people. In fact, every Taiwanese person I know who has been to HK has only good things to say about it.

But it seems from your anecdotes that HK people feel that Taiwanese look down on them. Might that not be just another of the negative stereotypes attributed to Taiwan and Taiwanese by people in HK and China?

Also, it doesn't surprise me at all that the Taiwan-related news presented to people outside of Taiwan (and especially in China and its SARs) is overwhelmingly negative.

And there is seldom a surplus of civility and politeness in a real democracy. On the contrary, it is usually a pretty messy affair, with people openly criticizing the government, individual govt. officials, and each other every day. If what people in HK, China and its SARs want is order and efficiency above all else, then they should perhaps just be satisfied with whatever system the CCP decides to give them, and not worry about how democratic is may or may not be.

I agree that the brawls which occur several times each year in the Taiwan legislature (and which apparently are the only sort of Taiwan-related news that people in HK and China are eager to watch), are something Taiwanese should feel ashamed of. But on the other hand, Taiwanese can feel proud that they have a civil society that allows a wide-open debate on any and all topics. Sure, Beijing makes a lot of vague promises about allowing democracy at some point in the next century, but it is happeneing right now in Taiwan.

Also, democracy has never come to any country in a ready-made, packaged form. It is something that must be re-invented in each society. It takes years to develop, and Taiwan's democracy is actually quite young. But it will always be the society with the most experience of democracy in the Chinese-speaking world. Even if Beijing that the CCP would allow democracy in HK starting tomorrow, it would still take years of trial and error.

And a good many brawls, no doubt.


channing said...


I have to say, though, HK news on almost anything is overwhelmingly negative. It fuels sensationalism and fuels criticism of the government, big business and the general society HK. And that's what sells, although it's a rather cynical way to use freedom of press as a watchdog.