The 2012 Olympics showcases to the sports world that Taiwan’s long-standing “strategic ambiguity” remains the rule of the day. The 44 Taiwanese athletes competing in the London games do not represent Taiwan or even the Republic of China in-exile. Instead, the athletes from the island of Formosa must compete under the name Chinese Taipei or be barred from participation.
Taiwan is also excluded from the World Health Organization but permitted observer status under the Chinese Taipei name. However, it is not just the name Chinese Taipei that has been imposed on the Olympic competitors in London, now a new flag has been unfurled.
Instead of the Republic of China in-exile’s red and blue banner the International Olympics Committee has required the Taiwanese athletes to compete under a white flag with the Olympic logo and the Kuomintang spiked-wheel symbol.
The Chinese Taipei requirement was met with apparent acceptance in Taiwan until the political labeling boiled over into international news when the ROC flag was taken down from a public display and replaced with the IOC white flag. According to the London Evening Standard the People’s Republic of China complained to British diplomats and down came the ROC flag.
Ma Ying-jeou, head of both the ROC government and the Kuomintang political party, has now complained that Chinese meddling in the Olympics is not helpful to his “one China, two areas” plan for unification with the Communist nation across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan’s Olympics history parallels its unresolved political status. The Republic of China first participated in the 1932 Summer Olympics and last competed in the 1976 Winter Olympics. In 1979, when the United States dropped recognition of the exiled Chinese Nationalist government on Formosa as the government of mainland China everything changed. Taiwan was out of the 1980 Olympics while the political upheaval caused by America’s decision settled.
Taiwanese athletes returned to the international completion in the 1984 Summer Olympics but under the designation of Chinese Taipei. China has thus far been successful at preventing Olympic recognition of the Republic of China.
At the close of World War II the island of Formosa was Japanese territory. In October 1945, the United States imposed Chiang Kai-shek’s troops to process surrendering Japanese soldiers. Because the Chinese civil war was raging and the larger Cold War heated up the United States allowed the ROC to continue to occupy the island.
Fighting in Korea and fear of Chinese aggression kept resolution of Formosa’s status unresolved at the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty negotiations. The United States continued to allow Chiang a free hand and he ruled the island with an iron fist imposing a harsh martial law that lasted into the mid-1980’s.
Because the name Formosa was linked to the island’s past history the name gradually became replaced by Taiwan which is now often used interchangeably with Republic of China. The ROC postage stamps use the name Republic of China (Taiwan). As the island slips toward Chinese control the name Chinese Taipei has gained momentum adding to the identity crisis.
In 2009, the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals addressed Taiwan’s unresolved status and ruled the island suffered in “political purgatory” because of the American-imposed “strategic ambiguity” which makes the Olympic white flag of Chinese Taipei a banner of a captive nation caught in purgatory.