Thursday, March 15, 2007

Olympics pose a unique dilemma: Taiwan

Peng Ming-min, a former adviser to the president, is sure to get everybody thinking. To be or not to be? They have 499 days left to make up their mind as to what to do about the Olympics. I sure hope they will show their strength and make the right choice.

Taipei Times: Thursday, Mar 15, 2007, Page 8 - As the excitement over next year's presidential election rises, I am wondering how many people have considered the fact that the nation will have to make a major choice after that election. On the world stage, before the eyes of billions of people, Taiwan must define its position clearly: is it part of China or is it a free and independent state? The decision will be of far-reaching and irreversible significance and have equally far-reaching and irreversible consequences.

China is working hard to prepare for next year's Beijing Olympics. Without thinking twice about sacrificing agricultural, industrial or local construction or the welfare of farmers and workers, China is investing tens of billions of US dollars in the destruction of historical sites and old residential areas to widen roads and build skyscrapers and public toilets. Beijing residents, taxi drivers and restaurant and tourism staff as well as other professions in the service industries are being instructed to learn the English language and Western etiquette. Even spitting is being banned.

While terrorists, dissidents and human rights groups will be stopped, Beijing is also taking the opportunity to reveal government neglect of human rights and anything else one can think of just to hold up China's new image as a civilized society to the tens of thousands of participating athletes and tourists who will visit the country, with foreign reporters a particular focus.

The Olympics have in recent years become increasingly political as less developed countries use them to show their progress while authoritarian states want to prove their political legitimacy and national strength. China's motives for wanting to hold the Olympic Games are comparable to Nazi Germany's motivation for organizing the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It has been said that excessive German pride over the Olympic success was one of the factors behind its invasions of neighboring countries and World War II.

So what should Taiwan do? Should it participate in the Beijing Olympics? How should it participate? The China issue and the complicated domestic political situation in Taiwan means that how we deal with these issues must be discussed in depth. The different political views of these issues could very well turn out to be diametrically opposed to each other.

First, the viewpoint that Taiwan should be independent. Not only does China oppose this, but it also repeatedly issues public threats to subdue Taiwan by military means and relies on verbal, military and commercial pressure in the international community to try and bring an end to Taiwan's existence. China would thus seem to be an open enemy of anyone holding the independence viewpoint, and unless China recognizes Taiwan's independence -- an impossibility -- this group will surely oppose participation in Olympic Games organized by a country that denies Taiwan's existence.

There are in fact numerous precedents of Olympic boycotts for political reasons: the US' boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, and the Soviet Union's boycott of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Then there is the viewpoint that the Republic of China (ROC) is independent. The Beijing Olympics puts the faction that supports this view in a very difficult and frustrating situation. This faction has always claimed that there is only one China and that this China is the ROC. They have sworn to defend the ROC's national title, flag, insignia and anthem to the death. What platform is more ideal for realizing this goal than the Olympic Games, watched by billions of people?

This group thus only has two choices. Unless China agrees that the ROC team can fly the ROC flag and national insignia and sing the ROC's national anthem -- another impossibility -- they will have to join hands with Taiwan independence supporters and boycott the games. The other choice is to abandon the ROC, surrender all dignity and forget all oaths to defend these to the death and participate under some nondescript name like "Chinese Taipei" or "Chunghwa Taipei," carry some nondescript flag and listen to some nondescript anthem while forlornly entering the sports arena.

This would be tantamount to admitting to the international community that the ROC no longer exists and that it has become part of China. It is also a confession to the Taiwanese people that past talk about the ROC being the one and only China and independent together with promises to defend these values to the death were nothing but lies. Their reputation and credibility will be dragged through the mud and no one will ever want to mention the Republic of China again.

Finally, there are the "Ah Q," "must not miss out," "who cares," and defeatist standpoints. The Ah Qs will accept the nondescript name, flag and anthem while holding signs that read "protesting" and claim to have won a moral victory.

But Taiwan's political arena also has room for a group that we can call the "must not miss outs." This approach is sometimes appropriate, for example during presidential elections, but that is an exception to the rule. This faction feels that it is necessary to participate in every possible sports competition or election regardless of whether it is right or wrong. Regardless of whether or not there is a chance to win and regardless of the consequences. Participation is the overriding value and it is always better than non-participation. The Beijing Olympics are no exception.

The "who cares" group is devoid of ideals, principles, standpoints and opinions. Dignity, identification, democracy, freedom or human rights are not important to them. Nothing matters to them and they always go with the flow.

The defeatists of course do everything according to China's wishes. To them, anything that may promote unification with China is good. If the group advocating an independent ROC joins hands with the Ah Qs, the must not miss outs, the who cares and the defeatists, they will become quite powerful and will surely demand that Taiwan participate in the Beijing Olympics, no matter what.

I wonder what will be the choice of the people of Taiwan and our next president.
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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