Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Beijing's Imperial Torch Route

Bad-faith, in-your-face negotiations are normal for China. Anyone recall how Beijing "ordained" a Bishop for its faux Church during negotiations with the Vatican, or how it flew an ambassador to India for talks, only to have him claim an entire Indian state? The latest example of this is the negotiation over the Olympic Torch. The IHT reports:

After a month of talks in which both sides made important concessions, Tsai Chen-wei, chairman of the Taiwanese Olympic committee, flew to Beijing on Sept. 6 to sign an accord on the matter.

But within 24 hours, he returned to Taipei empty-handed.

At the last moment, Taiwanese officials say, Beijing had added a stipulation that only the Olympic flag of Chinese Taipei - the name under which the island competes in the Olympics - could be on display as the torch crossed the island.

"They asked us not to show any other kind of flag, including our national flag," said Chen Ming-tong, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top policy agency for relations with China.

China was afraid that people here would do exactly what many of us have advocated: let the Torch in, and then protest along its entire route:

Negotiations now appear to be stalled, and it seems unlikely that the torch relay, crossing five continents from Athens to Beijing, will include Taiwan.

Some officials in Taipei say they suspect that Beijing decided it would be handing the Chen administration a propaganda coup if mainland television audiences watching the relay saw footage of thousands of happy Taiwanese waving the island's national flag.

Even worse, from Beijing's point of view, supporters of Taiwanese independence could have taken the opportunity to demonstrate with separatist slogans or symbols.

Political analysts in Taiwan say China's anger over Chen's decision to push ahead with a referendum on the island's bid to join the United Nations under the name of Taiwan could have contributed to the breakdown.

Taiwanese officials say the Chen administration was prepared to agree that the Chinese Taipei Olympic flag would be the only one officially displayed. That flag, which bears the emblem of Taiwan's Olympic committee on a white background, has been used since the 1984 Games.

But officials say they would be powerless to stop Taiwanese citizens from waving the flag of the Republic of China, the island's official name - or any other flag, for that matter.

"In an authoritarian country, it may not be a problem at all," said Taiwan's foreign minister, James Huang. "But in Taiwan, things do not work in the Chinese way.

"The Taiwanese government cannot agree to issue an order that disrespects and infringes on the rights of the people, and the people will not allow it to do so."

During the negotiations, Taiwan had dropped its objection to the torch being passed from Taiwan to Hong Kong and then Macao - a link that the Chen administration had complained would suggest that Taiwan was part of Chinese territory.

And China had relented on characterizing the Taiwan leg in the official program as part of its domestic route. Instead, in what appeared to be a significant concession from Beijing, Taipei was to be listed as one of the "overseas" cities hosting the relay.

It looks like we won't get the Torch, and we'll miss an important chance to display Taiwan's desire for independence to the audience in China. In the end -- that's the audience we have to reach.


Anonymous said...

The mainland can stick it's head in the sand. I suggest that Taipei light it's own torch and run it the length of the island, flying both the Taiwan flag and the Taipei Olympic flag. Many citizens will turn out to show support for the torch and the games. Such a show of sportmanship will certainly be picked up by the world media. Something like might just be what we need for more media attention.

MJ Klein said...

not having the torch come through Taiwan deals from strength - the strength to say no to China, and not weakness. the omission of Taiwan from the route speaks volumes; much louder than waving any flag could ever hope to accomplish.

Anonymous said...

Next word of the week for my trainees will be: "chutzpah"

Last week it was "Catch 22"

Anonymous said...

funny suggestion from anonymous, "I suggest that Taipei light it's own torch and run it the length of the island",
I think you also can relay your own torch around your house.