by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: wagtail/Flickr/CC

A NUMBER OF recent incidents highlight Taiwan’s exclusion from the international community. In particular, reference to even just the name “Taiwan” has sometimes led to strong reactions from China. This occurs at all levels.

Recently, controversy broke out after Taiwan’s representative to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, referred to herself as ambassador of Taiwan in the “About” section of her Twitter account. In a Tweet, Hsiao later stated this was her “job description” and what “many call [her]”, but that when engaging with the United States, her title remains “representative, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office”.

Taiwan does not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States, as a result of which Taiwan does not have a formal ambassador to the United States. Hsiao’s reference to herself as ambassador, then, caused controversy because of this assertion of a diplomatic relation with the United States—even an informal, unofficial one—something that unsurprisingly resulted in backlash from the Chinese government.

Similarly, members of the KMT also took Hsiao’s reference to herself as representative of “Taiwan” rather than the “ROC” as another example of the Tsai administration seeking to denigrate symbols of the ROC. Members of the KMT have long accused the Tsai administration of seeking to covertly push for “cultural Taiwanese independence” by erasing national symbols of the ROC and replacing references to the ROC with references to Taiwan on everything from government websites, the design of the passport, the design of advertising for national day celebrations, or the name of government representative offices abroad.

To this extent, controversy also broke out earlier this month after the Chinese Wild Bird Federation (CWBF), whose name in Chinese is the “Republic of China Wild Bird Federation” (社團法人中華民國野鳥學會), was removed from the list of partners of Birdlife International. The CWBF is Taiwan’s largest bird conservation group, while Birdlife International is a UK-based conservation organization. The CWBF was removed from the list after the organization refused to change its name in Chinese from the Republic of China Wild Bird Federation and to sign a document that would have required the organization to commit to opposing Taiwanese independence.

After its de facto expulsion from Birdlife International, the CWBF subsequently changed its English name to the Taiwan Wild Bird Federation, though the name of the organization remains the same in Chinese and the organization has asserted that it is a non-political organization. Birdlife International claimed that the move was aimed at “avoid[ing] wading into the perfectly understandable yet treacherous arena of geopolitical pressures and conflicts”, and that it was “follow[ing] the United Nations policies with regard to national sovereignty, nomenclature and related issues,” stating that organization members could not advocate secession. It is unclear whether the move was simply an act of self-censorship or whether this took place due to Chinese pressure on the organization, however.

In the last incident, popular Japanese virtual YouTubers Kiryu Coco and Akai Haato had her accounts suspended by their management company, Cover Corporation, for mentioning Taiwan during a live stream. This took place during a discussion between the two about where their fan donations came from, during which Kiryu mentioned that 5% of her fan donations came from Taiwan.

Although Cover Corporation claims that the suspension took place because Kiryu is contractually forbidden from discussing channel analytics, it is generally believed that this is due to backlash from Chinese fans, seeing as Cover Corporation distributed content on Chinese streaming platform Bilibili. The apology posted by Cover Corporation on Bilibili specifically mentioned the One China Principle as a reason for the suspension.

Introduction video of Kiryu Coco

Taiwanese entertainers have long since faced pressures to self-censor regarding their political views or how they represent their place of origin. While there have been many such cases in past years, the most famous may be that of Taiwanese K-pop girl group Twice member Chou Tzu-yu being forced to apologize for waving a ROC flag during a video in 2016 by the management of Twice, shortly before the Taiwanese presidential elections took place.

Chou was forced to apologize for perceived political views in support of Taiwanese independence despite that few would perceive waving the ROC flag as being supportive of Taiwanese independence in Taiwan. But one expects similar incidents to be increasingly the case regarding international companies hoping to enter the Chinese market, or who fear that Chinese customers will be offended—by just even the mention of Taiwan, in some cases.

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