What's in a name? Taiwan question endures internationally
BEIJING, China – The Miss Universe contest and the World Trade Organization have both puzzled a common conundrum: what to call Taiwan, an island whose relationship with mainland China is riddled with complications.
Now presidents Xi Jinping of China and Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou will meet on Saturday for the first such encounter in 66 years, with one of the spotlights on their own titles.
Overshadowed by the mainland's economic and geopolitical might, Taiwan has governed itself since the nationalist Kuomintang fled there in 1949 after being defeated by Mao Zedong's communists in the Chinese civil war.
It is not a member of the United Nations, World Bank or International Monetary Fund, and it only has formal diplomatic relations with 22 states, including the Holy See - population 800.
Its bid to join the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was rejected, as was its attempt to take part in this month's UN climate change summit in Paris as a full official delegation.
But Taipei continues to wage a delicate war of words with Beijing, in which the two governments must avoid subtle linguistic choices that might indicate recognition of the other's national legitimacy.
When Ma and Xi meet this weekend, they will refer to each other as "mister" to sidestep potential awkwardness.
A larger conflict is over what to call the island itself, one that the international organisations it has joined have settled in different ways.
The Asian Development Bank went with "Taipei, China", while the Olympics, the Miss Universe competition and football's governing body FIFA have all chosen "Chinese Taipei" -- although it often has to use alternative flags at sporting events.
But the World Trade Organization clumsily refers to it as the "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu" -- naming the smaller islands under Taipei's administrative control.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum takes care to use "economies" rather than "states" to refer to its members, which include "Chinese Taipei", "Hong Kong, China" and the "People's Republic of China".
Both Taiwan and China agree that there is "one China" and officially view the island as a Chinese province. But they disagree over whether the China in question is the communist "People's Republic of China" or the "Republic of China", as Taiwan styles itself.
Beijing refers to "compatriots across the Taiwan Straits" and makes clear in official white papers that national reunification is "a sacrosanct mission of the entire Chinese people".
It is vehemently opposed to Taiwanese independence, and makes clear that in the event of "separation of Taiwan from China in any name... the Chinese government will only be forced to adopt all drastic measures possible, including the use of force, to safeguard China's sovereignty and territorial integrity".
In mainland airports, signs direct outbound passengers towards "International/Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan" flights, pointedly equating the island with the Special Administrative Regions that enjoy significant autonomy after their return from colonial rule to Beijing's authority.
The ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing refuses to answer questions about Taiwan, deeming them "internal affairs", and the dispute even encompassed the MH370 aircraft disappearance last year.
Malaysia Airlines listed 153 people of Chinese nationality and one from "Chinese Taipei" on the passenger list - but Beijing consistently says that 154 Chinese were on board. –Rappler.com