Wednesday, August 20, 2008

International Olympic Committee Embraces "One China" Policy

No flag, anthem -- or even country name -- for Taiwanese Olympians

Those who have been paying close attention to the Beijing Olympics may have taken notice of a country that they otherwise may have been unaware exists.

Mostly because it doesn't.

As this Al Jazeera report notes, "Chinese Taipei" may seem like the name of some fledging new Asian state, but it isn't. Rather, "Chinese Taipei" is the name imposed by the IOC on Taiwan, whom China regards as a "renegade province". The IOC even took the liberty of giving the Taiwanese team a new -- distinctly non-Taiwanese -- flag for the duration of the 2008 games.

Countless events leading up to the 2008 games have put the lie to the IOC's insistence that hosting the games would help China improve its human rights record. Now, the IOC's treatment of Taiwan -- under pressure applied by the Chinese state -- has put the lie to the notion that hosting the Olympics will give China incentive to improve its foreign policy stance.

In this case, the policy imposing itself on the Olympic games is China's contentious "One China" policy. Of course, Taiwan has its own One China policy, in which its government insists that it is the legitimate government of China.

Historically, this goes all the way back to the struggle between the Communist Party of China, who succeeded in seizing control of mainland China, and the Kuomintang who, defeated in the Chinese Civil War, sought refuge on the island of Taiwan.

For the IOC to effectively take sides in the One China controversy -- telling Taiwanese athletes they aren't allowed to compete under their own flag, or hear their own anthem after a victory -- shows just how pervasive the effect of China's influence over the games has become. It's undermined one of the Olympics' most fundamental traditions -- competing in the name of one's country.

It's yet another black eye the IOC will have to find a way to erase.


  1. Patrick, are you aware that Stephen Harper's government endorsed the One China policy last year?

  2. Just as I'm aware that the United States has recognized it ever since Nixon was in power.

    Now, allow me to take some time out here and point out a couple of differences between what Harper has done and what the IOC has done.

    Canada doesn't forbid Taiwanese people from referring to themselves as Taiwanese in Canada. Nor have we prohibited their flag or their anthem.

    In fact, we continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. They continue to maintain an Embassy in Ottawa.

    Now, for the bigger question this begs: was Harper right to recognize the One China policy?


    For one thing, China and Taiwan continue to maintain their political separation (even though they've increasingly recognized economic and cultural links between their country).

    What Harper did when he endorsed the One China policy is not much unlike Charles De Gualle shouting "Vive Quebec libre" in Montreal. Obviously the meaning is different, but it's still undue meddling in the affairs of another country. Or, in this case, two.

  3. Not sure whether I agree or disagree.

    The One-China policy is one of those awkward political compromises that makes no ideological sense at all, but that actually works rather well in a messy, real world. Every time Chinese exports spike or a Taiwanese leader begins to fulminate, ideologues of both stripes wax indignant. Truth is, both countries are prospering, and between the bouts of posturing (which, in Taiwan's case, is mostly about ensuring ongoing American aid, and in China's case is mostly about asserting dominance), the rapprochement since Mao's decline and death has been quiet but palpable.

    So I wasn't criticizing Harper's acknowledgment of a complicate status quo: simply pointing out that the IOC, the US and Canada all share more or less the same perspective.

  4. Well, even if you were to criticize Harper for endorsing the One China policy, I think you'd still be right.

    But I don't think the One China policy has to make ideological sense. It just has to make sense, and frankly, it doesn't.

    One can certainly understand why China holds such a policy. Personally, I abhor it, but I do understand it. And Taiwan's government can hold such a policy if it wishes.

    But let's take a good, long look at the situation between the two countries and recognize it for what it is: a civil war that has never really come to a full conclusion, militarily or politically.

    When we endorse the One China policy, we're effectively taking sides in that civil war -- one in which we have virtually no stake.

    It's just bad foreign policy, frankly.


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