London's Regent Street Exposes Charades Over Taiwan

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Friday August 03, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

There are charades and then there are charades; so too there are pretensions and then there are pretensions! And while political, economic and even social necessities often dictate that nations and their people are periodically involved in some form of political charades and pretensions, there also comes a time when those nations but more particularly the people of those nations will say, "Enough is enough; this is becoming ridiculous!" That is what recently happened at the 2012 Olympics in London in what could be called the Regent Street Affair.

Begin with the Olympics that are taking place in London. The businesses there and in particular those of Regent Street decided to decorate their area with the flags of the many nations involved in the Olympics. Why not? Regent Street is a non-Olympic venue, and is not governed by Olympic Committee laws; it is their choice. Further, flags are decorative and festive; what better way to attract tourists and customers to the area?

The KMT, driven out of China when it lost the civil war with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), came to Taiwan, took it over with force and set up its one-party state, the Republic of China (ROC) replete with martial law. Now begin the charades and pretensions of post World War II (WWII) of which there are so many it would take volumes to point them all out. To sum up however, even though the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1952) never stated to whom Taiwan belonged after WW II, Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT claimed it as well as maintaining the charade that they were and have always been the legitimate rulers of China. Some members of the KMT including Taiwan's current president still insist on this pretension despite the fact that they were kicked out of China in 1949 and the ROC exited (read was kicked out of) the United Nations (UN) in 1971. The United States has its own contributing part in preserving the ambiguity of this charade by maintaining even to this day, some 67 years after World War II, that the true position of Taiwan is "undecided."

On the other hand, though the number of nations officially recognizing the ROC/Taiwan has dwindled to 23, a different charade exists. Almost all nations still trade with Taiwan, and maintain normal relations with it as a nation, yet to preserve their preferential trade with China, they do not challenge China's claim that Taiwan belongs to it. They just ignore that claim in certain practices. So where do the Olympics come in?

In 1981, the ROC/China charade issue was forced when the KMT's one-party state wanted to enter the Olympics. The Olympic Committee was not adverse to that, but they would not let the KMT use the name ROC, because in the eyes of the UN and an insistent China, the ROC did not exist. The KMT rulers on the other hand did not want to use the offered names Taiwan or Formosa, because that would undermine the status of their one-party state, which pretended to support democracy. To preserve the charade of their rule without yet allowing a democratic Taiwan, they compromised. The settled upon name was Chinese Taipei, an ambiguous name that while detested in Taiwanese circles would allow both the KMT and the CCP to pretend they had legitimate claim to Taiwan. Thus began the practice of Taiwan using the Chinese Taipei name and flag at official Olympic functions.

Flash forward to the present. If Regent Street, in putting up the flags of all the nations participating in the Olympics, had originally put up the Chinese Taipei Olympic flag, most would have probably accepted it and there would be few protests. Regent Street didn't. With the Taiwan/ROC flag waving in the wind, officials of the People's Republic of China (PRC) then forced their side of the charade. They insisted that Regent Street follow the laws of the Olympic Committee, laws to which Regent Street was not bound. The PRC pressured the British government to get into the act.

Here comes the crucial part. When the Taiwan flag was taken down, its space was not immediately filled; the space was left empty. If it were immediately filled with the Chinese Taipei Olympic flag, there would have been some protests, but not what followed. To leave it blank became a direct slap in the face to the citizens of Taiwan as well as to all who went along with the Chinese Taipei charade for it said, "You, Taiwan, don't exist, not even as Chinese Taipei." That was a stretch too far; it was an absurd pretension that Taiwanese and even British citizens could not accept. Here was China extending its charade beyond the Olympic rules, and pressuring the British government to support it. For Taiwanese it was time to say to the Chinese Emperors that they had no clothes; the Taiwanese, were not only tired of the old pretense but they also were not going to let China extend it beyond the Olympics.

The Olympics are supposed to be about a common humanity, the competitive spirit, fair play and the fellowship of nations. They have been politicized in the past but over much more serious matters than Regent Street displaying a flag that China was not happy with. Here is the irony; by insisting on removing the flag, the PRC exposed not only the charade but also China's true face. Taiwan's current government ended up exposing its own charades as it only offered a meek protest. And the people of Regent Street who in following a marketing instinct had put up the "wrong flag" must be chuckling inwardly with their notoriety. Further, instead of quieting things, more and more Taiwan flags have now appeared throughout London and Taiwanese athletes are making a point of saying "I am Taiwanese." True Taiwanese as well as many citizens of the world in growing tired of these charades and games of political one-upmanship are saying, "Enough is enough, this is becoming ridiculous..