by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: UDN

WHILE MEANT to be a cause for celebration in Taiwan, as marking the start of the largest international sporting event ever held in Taiwan, the opening ceremonies of the Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade were instead a cause for media spectacle and anger from the Taiwanese public. As the high school and college level equivalent of the Olympics, 7,700 student athletes from 141 countries will participate in the games. Anger was directed primarily at two events.

First would be the successful attempt of anti-pension reform demonstrators to block most of the competing student athletes from entering the entrance ceremony, including the Taiwanese team, something many perceive as having caused significant loss of face for Taiwan on the international stage. Second would be the strange sight of Taiwanese athletes not being allowed to participate in the ceremony under “Taiwan” or even “Republic of China,” but instead under the name “Chinese Taipei”.

Anti-Pension Reform Demonstrators Disrupt Opening Ceremonies

ANGERING OF the public would be the fact that anti-pension reform demonstrators were successful in preventing student athletes both international and from Taiwan from entering the Taipei Municipal Arena during when they should have entered the stadium during the ceremony. Fearful of danger from anti-pension reform demonstrators, police decided not to allow student athletes to enter when the entrance to the stadium was blocked off by demonstrators, and instead student athletes entered the stadium all at once at the end of the ceremony.

Anti-pension reform demonstrators at the opening ceremonies of the Universiade. Photo credit: NowNews

Anti-pension reform demonstrators would be demonstrating pension reforms by the Tsai administration which would remove the generous pensions granted to civil servants, teachers, and members of the military, including a controversial 18% preferential savings rate for retired civil servants. Many pension reform demonstrators hew to the KMT and pan-Blue camp, seeing as during Taiwan’s period of authoritarian rule, members of the military constituted a privileged social and economic elite under KMT one-party rule and generous pensions served as a reward for political loyalty, and are generally older individuals who served during the authoritarian period; some old enough to have actually been born in China.

As such, anti-pension reform demonstrators oppose the Tsai administration’s attempt to reform the pension system in Taiwan, which will go bankrupt in the coming decades if reforms are not urgently made. Anti-pension reform demonstrators have thus demonstrated for months, including maintaining a constant occupation outside the Legislative Yuan and making several attempts to occupy the Legislative Yuan in the hopes that this will allow for their demands to gain the sympathy of the Taiwanese public as a galvanizing issue, much as the Sunflower Movement occupation of the Legislative Yuan by Taiwanese students succeeded in making the CSSTA trade agreement to be signed with China a significant public issue.

But anti-pension reform demonstrators are notably out of step with the sentiments of the Taiwanese public, because anti-pension mix in a great deal of pro-China sentiment and denigration of Taiwanese democracy in with their demands and, though claiming that they will be impoverished by the Tsai administration’s actions, their actions are perceived as demanding the return of the privileges they once enjoyed under KMT rule at the expense of bankrupting the pension system for future generations. For example, signs at past anti-pension reform demonstrations have included calls for opposing DPP “populism” and restoring Chinese culture, that civilians should heed military authority, signs calling Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen a “dictator,” a “witch” and a “whore”, and demands that Tsai Ing-Wen step down for her calls to reform the pension system. Again, this returns to age, in that these are individuals who served as part of the KMT party-state, and, as a result, not only strongly identify with China, but retain negative views of the Taiwanese democracy movement and the currently ruling DPP, which was the political party that emerged from the democracy movement. Retired high-ranking members of the military have caused controversy in past years for high-profile visits to China to meet with Chinese government officials, in which they are accused of sharing military secrets with China.

Anti-pension reform demonstrators clashing with police in July. Photo credit: CNA

Never mind that Tsai was democratically elected by the majority of the Taiwan public due to her stances on a variety of issues, pension reform opponents seem view their one demand to retain their pensions and economic kickbacks from the government as significant enough to necessitate Tsai stepping down. Regardless, anti-pension reform demonstrators have been seen as a security threat in the past because they have among their members former police and military, including members of the special forces. As pension reform opponents have themselves stated, members of the Taiwanese police and government are also sometimes sympathetic to their cause because they also stand to be affected by pension reforms, leading to police plans being leaked to anti-pension reform demonstrators ahead of time. As such, the Tsai administration has faced inherent challenges in the push for pension reform.

Nevertheless, although pension reform opponents have recently touted their plans to form their own pan-Blue political party focused on the issue, it is hard to see how actions of pension reform opponents at the Universiade opening will work out positively for them. In disrupting the opening of the largest international sporting event in Taiwanese history, an occasion in which Taiwan would be on the world stage, anti-pension reform demonstrators have once again demonstrated how they view their personal privileges as more significant than the rest of Taiwan. The sight of older, mostly geriatric demonstrators of an almost exclusively waishengren background disrupting an event for young, international student athletes also does not reflect well on them.

Pension reform opponents hanging a banner on the Hukou Sanyuan Temple in Hsinchu referring to Tsai Ing-Wen as a “Dictator Evil Witch Prostitute Rotten Vegetable” (獨裁女妖雞八爛菜). Pension reform opponents were criticized for disrespecting a religious institution with their actions. Photo credit: Chen Yanlin/UDN

This will only be damaging to the pan-Blue camp in terms of loss of face. But, seeing as it has been suggested anti-pension reform demonstrators may be being aided by China as a way to undermine the DPP and Tsai administration, this will only add weight to the view that pro-unification forces are completely willing to sabotage what the rest of Taiwan is proud of in order to facilitate their own political agenda—indeed, the Taiwanese team was also unable to attend the ceremony because of the actions of anti-pension reform demonstrators.

Taiwan Forced to Participate As “Chinese Taipei” Even For An Event Within Its Own Borders

AT THE SAME time, however, the spectacle of Taiwan participating under the name “Chinese Taipei” even for a sporting event within its own borders also provokes anger. One suspects that this could, in fact, be a tipping point regarding calls in Taiwan to push for correction of the status of the name by which Taiwan is known by internationally, under which Taiwan is forced to participate in international events not under the name Taiwan or the Republic of China, but as “Chinese Taipei,” or “Taiwan, Province of China,” or some variant thereof.

Again, under the One China Policy adhered to by the International Olympic Committee and other international bodies, only one “China” can be recognized and so long as that “China” is the People’s Republic of China and not the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name, Taiwan will be forced to participate in international sporting events and international bodies under a number of odd names. As stated by International University Sports Federation President Oleg Matytsin in a press conference yesterday, Taiwan must participate in the Universiade under the name “Chinese Taipei” because these are the rules the Olympics conform to, and the Universiade is the equivalent of the Olympics for high school and college-age athletes. But Chinese pressure often also contributes to Taiwan being forced to participate in international sporting events and international bodies, given that China wishes to make members of the international community accept its claims over Taiwan.

It had previously been an object of controversy that in a promotional pamphlet for the Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade, Chinese Taipei was used as though it were the name of the entire country. This led to odd sentences as “Chinese Taipei is a long and narrow that lies north to south,” with no mention of whether Chinese Taipei was an island, a country, or a city-state. Apart from mockery of the poor English used in the pamphlet, this led to criticisms from legislators of the New Power Party such as Huang Kuo-Chang and Freddy Lim given the indignities of Taiwan not even being referred to by its own name for a sporting event in its borders. The pamphlet was later quietly changed, although officials have denied that the controversy was the reason for the change.

Photo credit: 台灣巨砲#52 陳金鋒/Facebook

While Taipei mayor Ko Wen-Je and Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen referred to Taiwan and not Chinese Taipei in their public remarks and the opening ceremonies seemed designed to play up Taiwan’s differing cultural heritage from China, including spotlighting Taiwanese indigenous and support for same-sex marriage, causes the Tsai administration sometimes leverages on as a means of distinguishing Taiwan from China, official announcements for the ceremony referred to all Taiwanese athletes as athletes from Chinese Taipei. For example, Chen Chin-Feng, the first Taiwanese player to participate in Major League Baseball, who lit the flame for the games, was referred to as the “first Chinese Taipei player playing in Major League Baseball.” Apart from serving as another case of awkward English, this statement would be doubly ironic given that Chen actually hails from Tainan and not Taipei, but the “Chinese Taipei” moniker under which Taiwan frequently competes in international sporting events acts as though there nothing of Taiwan exists outside of Taipei.

Security staff at the Universiade also attempted to crack down on Taiwanese independence demonstrations, including allowing only the Republic of China within the stadium and not allowing other variations of Taiwanese flags. Seeing as the Taiwanese population largely views itself as independent from China, the Republic of China framework is increasingly controversial in Taiwan because it continues to bind Taiwan to China and for many, icons of the Republic of China bring up distasteful memories of one party rule by the KMT and it is not a symbol that they see as representative of Taiwan. One does well to note that, for example, the white sun in the upper-left corner of the ROC flag is the KMT logo, a reminder of one party rule by the KMT during the authoritarian period using the ROC state. As such, it is enraging to many that only the ROC flag would be allowed to be used as representation of Taiwan in the Universiade.

But for international events in which Taiwan and China are both participants sometimes it is even that ROC iconography is forbidden. This, too, was also the case with the Universiade. While the ROC flag was allowed to be brought into the stadium by members of the audience, during the official opening ceremony, a separate flag representative of “Chinese Taipei” was instead used of the ROC flag. This flag is the same flag used by Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei” during the Olympics. One is vaguely reminded of the outrage which followed Ma administration’s actions during the visit of Chinese official Chen Yunlin to Taiwan in 2008, then the highest ranking Chinese official to visit Taiwan since the Chinese Civil War, in which ROC flags were removed from around Chen’s visitation rule. Yet, strangely enough, this seems to be no different under the Tsai administration. This would be another sign that the DPP is increasingly ceding the ground of pro-Taiwanese identity politics, something which may be taken up by newer political parties in the pan-Green camp such as the NPP.

Taiwanese flags thrown out at the entrance of the Universiade. Photo credit: Yueh-miao Chen/Facebook

And we see the politicization of Taiwan’s international status with regards to that part of the reason why pension reform opponents were successful in disrupting the Universiade was because Interpol refused to share information with Taiwan, claiming that Taiwan would have to request orders from Beijing. Once again, then, does Taiwan continue to be snared by its lack of a “normalized” international status even regarding events in its own borders in which it should take the international spotlight, given its marginalization from the international community due to One China Policy.

What Now?

AT THE VERY least, international attention about Taiwan’s peculiar status has been raised through the bizarre happenings of the Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade, as we see in international press coverage including a New York Times article, and there will be renewed discussion in Taiwan about Taiwan’s lack of normalization in the international community. Sport, after all, are a frequent site of contestation about Taiwanese identity in sports ranging from soccer to e-sports. One wonders to some extent whether this was what Taipei mayor Ko Wen-Je was gambling on by pushing for the Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade to the extent that he did, even alienating much of the post-Sunflower Movement youth activist support base that put him into power by undertaking compromising measures to secure international participation in the Universiade, inclusive of Chinese participation. This included controversy regarding comments Ko made in China claiming that people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits were family and shared a common destiny.

It did not go unnoticed to many that China was represented in the ceremony by only a single athlete, for example, apparently as a result of China’s decision to only send individual athletes and to withdraw from participation in group events. Nonetheless, at the same time, one also wonders if this is giving Ko too much a credit, Ko being a political candidate that does not adhere to traditional Blue/Green political divisions in Taiwan between the KMT-led pan-Blue camp and DPP-led pan-Green camp.

Chinese representative at the Universiade. Photo credit: NowNews

Nevertheless, the possibilities that the Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade will not put on Taiwan’s best face for the world remain quite high. A previous scandal brought to public attention criticisms from young athletes the criteria by which Taiwanese athletes were chosen was accused of lacking transparency and were nepotistic in nature. But the construction process for infrastructure needed for the games has also long been marred by controversy, as seen in delays in the construction of the Taipei Dome and conflict between the Ko administration and the Farglory Group, which was responsible for the construction of the Taipei Dome, and accusations of corruption behind the construction of the dome including such high-ranking government officials as former president Ma Ying-Jeou. At the very least, for a nation which claims to be a first world nation, Taiwan should hope not to cause the high school and college-level equivalent of the 2016 Rio Olympics, which were also touted beforehand as Brazil’s chance to put itself on the world stage.

But one shall see. It is also possible that further protest, whether from anti-pension reform demonstrators or those angry with the “Chinese Taipei” moniker, will also take place in the course of the games and we shall see what the effects on international perceptions of Taiwan are.

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