Officials from the self-governing island worry that China might use the Games as a linguistic opportunity to assert its claim over Taiwan.
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A week ago, Taiwan said it would not participate in the opening ceremony of the Winter Games in Beijing. Then the island democracy reversed its decision, citing pressure from the International Olympic Committee.
In at first declining, Taiwanese officials had pointed to inconvenient flight schedules and pandemic restrictions. But they are also engaged in a political rivalry with Beijing over the Olympics, embodied in one persistent issue: the name of Taiwan’s delegation.
Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its territory, has for decades been compelled to compete in international sports events as “Chinese Taipei” rather than as Taiwan or under its formal name, Republic of China. The International Olympic Committee’s rules prohibit delegations from Taiwan from using any symbols suggesting that the island is a sovereign nation.
When Taiwan said on Monday that it had decided to take part in the opening ceremony, officials from the island urged China not to try to use the Games to suppress Taiwan. They did not go into specifics, but some Taiwanese officials worry that Beijing might use the Games to undermine the island’s status.
The dispute centers on the Chinese rendering of the Taiwanese delegation’s name, “Chinese Taipei.” Officially, the delegation’s Chinese name is Zhonghua Taipei. But officials on the mainland often refer to the Taiwanese delegation as Zhongguo Taipei. Zhongguo is the Chinese name for China; referring to the Taiwanese delegation as such implies that the athletes and the island they represent are part of China.
In 2008, when the Taiwan delegation marched into the National Stadium in Beijing for the Summer Olympics, the event’s Chinese announcer stuck to the official version of the delegation’s name. But relations between the two sides have since deteriorated, and concerns have grown that this time, China might use the ceremonies as an opportunity to assert its claim over Taiwan.
On Friday, the delegation will not get to use the name Taiwan on their national team uniforms, sing their anthem or carry the island’s flag during the opening ceremony.
“I actually feel a bit disappointed that I can’t compete with the name of Taiwan,” Lin Sin-rong, a luger who is competing in Beijing, said in January. “When it comes to China, I do what I should and keep what I shouldn’t say in my heart.”
Ho Ping-jui, a 23-year-old Alpine skier and a first-time Olympian, said he hoped to raise the international visibility of Taiwan, where he grew up.
“I hope more friends from the world can know Taiwan by seeing me ski,” Ho, 23, said before heading to Beijing from Taipei last week. “I always tell people that I’m from Taiwan when I’m abroad.”