Chinese Taipei – What’s in a name?

Chinese Taipei won the 2015 World Cheerleading Championship, but the Championship was not won by the “Taipeinese”; it was won by the people of Taiwan. This distinction is confusing to many since participants of international organizations act under their country’s name. Why the use of Chinese Taipei? Shouldn’t it and other names of the island be discarded for clarity’s sake? Simply put, it is the result of political views across the Taiwan Strait.

If one would like to pinpoint the beginning of the term, it would come from the Olympics. During the 1970s, there was a shift in international relations as countries started to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legitimate government of China, instead of the Republic of China (ROC) on the island of Taiwan. Despite calls and negotiations to maintain the ROC’s representation under “Taiwan”, the government refused to have a label that undermines their claim to China. In the view of the ROC government, it is China — it is just that it temporarily relocated to the Free Areas of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and the Pescadores due to internal rebellion in the mainland.

The difference between claimed and controlled territories of the ROC. Dark blue is controlled while all the rest is claimed.
The difference between claimed and controlled territories of the ROC. Dark blue is controlled while all the rest is claimed.

After negotiations in which the ROC flat out disagreed to being under the name “Taiwan”, the International Olympic Committee and the ROC agreed to allow the ROC to participate under the name “Chinese Taipei”. It respected the territorial claim of the ROC of Taiwan being a part of China (Free China), and more importantly preserved what little international space the ROC had as a self-governing entity. Consent by the PRC was given on March 23, 1981 in the “Nagoya Resolution” since it does abide with their “One China” policy that Taiwan is part of the Chinese socio-politico system (albeit a renegade province). Since then, the usage of “Chinese Taipei” has been utilized by the PRC in the political-socio-economic spectrums in the bid to constrain Taiwan independence on the international stage. It remains as one of the most widely-used name for the ROC and Taiwan in international organizations.

The PRC spared no rest in resisting the use of the word “Taiwan”  to represent the island. As one may have noticed, Taiwan is not a member in all major international organizations, namely the United Nations. Out of the ones that does provide access, most organizations identify Taiwan with names such as “Chinese Taipei”, “Taiwan, Province of China”, “Taiwan (China)”, or “Zhonghua” as referred in Taiwan during events that uses “Chinese Taipei”. Many of the aliases contains the reference to China or Chinese; the “Chinese” connection between the people on both sides of the Strait is constantly emphasized as if it is not correct to have a “Taiwanese” identity.

Times have changed. The government on Taiwan is not the same now as the one that negotiated and signed the Nagoya Resolution. The current government is a democratic governing body that contains the representation of the Taiwan populace, not just the select group of people that dictated policy in a party-state apparatus. The desire of being represented as a wholly separate entity is rapidly increasing in Taiwan through the rise of identifying oneself as Taiwanese. One may argue that the population of Taiwan wants to be represented in international institutions without having any overt connections with China or “Chinese”. While it is true that many roots of Taiwan are Chinese or derived from China, the unique infusion of different peoples throughout time synthesized the unique entity that is Taiwan. Now that the government is part of this narrative, it could be the natural course that the unique entity would prompt discussion and raise the need to revise the status quo that is “Chinese Taipei”.



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