By Thomas Shattuck*
(FPRI) — Recent incidents continue to demonstrate how the People’s Republic of China is attempting to isolate Taiwan from the international community. These actions (both on the micro and macro level) bode ill for how China is going to engage with Taiwan under President Tsai Ing-Wen, whose election Beijing opposed.
Reports from a Shanghai bookstore show the nonsensical lengths that some people in China will go to “exclude” Taiwan. Bookstores are ripping “Taiwan” out of the Merriam-Webster dictionary before customers have the opportunity to purchase it. Other shops simply black out Taiwan-related entries. This “correction” removes any hint of recognition of a “Republic of China” or “Taiwan,” at the expense of other words beginning with the letter “T.” It is a crude method of censorship that boggles the mind—if Merriam-Webster produces dictionaries with apparently offending entries, why does the Chinese government allow them to be sold? It already bans Western social media websites and movies that promote “Western values.” Why risk the embarrassing news story? Ridiculous does not come close to describing these actions.
— Taylor Wang (@taylorwang789) October 7, 2016
The dictionary incident follows another high profile kerfuffle over a popular Chinese television show—a game show where foreign students compete based on their Mandarin abilities—which omitted Taiwan from a map of China. Since China views Taiwan as a part of it, this omission sparked outrage online. Hunan Television, the channel on which the offending show aired, released a statement: “We feel a deep sense of dereliction of duty at the ‘problem map’ incident and feel deeply pained.” The station even clarified that all employees believe that Taiwan is not independent but part of China. The harsh reaction from these netizens shows how sensitive of a topic Taiwanese identity is on the Mainland. The choice of wordage in Hunan Television’s statement escalates the severity of the issue: being “deeply pained” and admitting a “dereliction of duty” are words one would not expect to find over such an omission. Taiwan’s existence as a de facto independent entity angers Chinese citizens who are fervently nationalist, and incidents like the “problem map” only remind the global community how seriously the “Taiwan Question” is treated on the Mainland.
While the two above examples show controversies stemming from Chinese citizens and businesses, another fresh controversy demonstrates that bookstores and netizens appear to take their cues from authorities in the Chinese Community Party (CCP). In September 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is a part of the United Nations, rejected Taiwan’s request to participate in its 39th Assembly in Montreal. At this assembly, nations discuss aviation policy, and despite Taiwan’s central location within East Asia, ICAO still decided not to accept its request. According to Airports Council International, “More than 1.53 million aircraft carrying 58 million passengers passed through the Taipei Flight Information Region last year. In addition, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport was ranked 11th and sixth busiest airport in the world in terms of passenger and cargo volumes, respectively.” This high level of air traffic alone should qualify it for a seat at these assemblies. Taiwan had participated in the 38th assembly in 2013 with the hope of continued participation. In 2013, China “asked for Taiwan to be invited.” This year, due to harsh Chinese backlash from Taiwan electing Tsai as president, China pressed ICAO not to allow Taiwan to join the assembly, and ICAO’s spokesperson said that it was “follow[ing] the United Nations’ ‘One China’ policy.” Countries from all across the globe have expressed their support for Taiwan’s participation in ICAO meetings and discontent with ICAO backing down due to Chinese pressure. Stickers saying “The sky is not made in China” have appeared at ICAO headquarters in Montreal in response to Taiwan’s exclusion. China hopes that by further excluding Taiwan from participation in international organizations it can force President Tsai to publicly adhere to the 1992 Consensus. However, such stories create sympathy for Taiwan and its people, and they also further perpetuate the perception of Chinese aggression in the region. China’s own actions paint it in a bad light and generate international support for Taiwan.
In early October 2016, Pew reported (ironically) that 77% of Chinese people think that “their way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence, and such sentiment is up 13 percentage points since 2002.” Considering these events, China and Chinese citizens are the ones negatively influencing the world around them, squeezing and alienating Taiwan and forcing China’s will on international organizations.
No matter what China does—short of war or extreme coercion—Taiwan will still be there as a (de facto) independent entity.
About the author:
*Thomas J. Shattuck is the Assistant Editor and a Research Associate at FPRI. He received his BA in History and English from La Salle University in 2013 and his MA in International Studies from National Chengchi University in 2016. Thomas also received a Fulbright grant to teach English in Kinmen, Taiwan for the 2013-14 academic year.
This article was published at FPRI.