August 23, 2022 | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Time for Taiwan to be called Taiwan

August 23, 2022 | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Time for Taiwan to be called Taiwan

It’s August in Pennsylvania. That means kids across the commonwealth are getting ready to return to school. But a talented few from Hollidaysburg are too busy to sharpen their pencils just yet: They’re in Williamsport chasing dreams in the Little League World Series. Unfortunately, one of their potential competitors, a team visiting Pennsylvania from 8,000 miles away, can’t take the field under their accurate, national label. These boys are from Taiwan. But in the Little League World Series, they are referred to as “Chinese Taipei.”

This is offensive. It’s arcane. And, worse yet, it’s deferential to the increasingly hostile and abusive Chinese Communist Party regime that governs mainland China. That mainland Chinese authoritarian government is carrying out a genocide against ethnic minorities within its borders while also threatening to invade Taiwan, a key U.S. partner.

National sovereignty should mean something in our modern international community. National sovereignty should also mean something in baseball, a sport that is as much a symbol for freedom as is the bald eagle. And that should extend to team names on the scoreboard. Little League leadership in Williamsport should lead by example and permanently correct the error. The team from Taiwan should be called what it is.

The history behind this Taiwan-Chinese Taipei mix up, to put it generously, is convoluted. But its importance registers well beyond Williamsport — and newly so.

Taiwan is a sovereign state. Its contemporary lineage as such owes to the 1949 Chinese civil war, which led to the Chinese Communist Party establishing the “People’s Republic of China” on mainland China, while the non-Communists retreated to Taiwan and the “Republic of China.” But even as Taiwan proceeded in the following decades to flourish as a prosperous democracy, the Chinese Communist Party refused to acknowledge it as a sovereign state. Instead, the Communists claim the island as a part of one, single, China — theirs.

The “Chinese Taipei” moniker has been used as a half-hearted compromise label for the Republic of China (Taiwan) in international sporting events since 1979. That year’s Nagoya Resolution struck the deal of allowing Taiwan entry into the Olympics — despite Beijing’s objections — but on the condition that Taiwanese athletes would compete only as the “deliberately ambiguous” Chinese Taipei. The Taiwanese side fought this poor compromise at first. They boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, alongside others offended not by the rejection of their national identities but by the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Taiwanese Olympic Committee leadership eventually relented and competed as Chinese Taipei in the 1984 Olympics. The label has stuck since.

Here we are now, nearly 40 years later. Some things haven’t changed. The former Soviet Union is again launching unprovoked invasions, inviting international scorn (and fear), and being pushed out of international sporting events. Even as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine makes today’s Russia increasingly an international pariah, it still enjoys the support of the Chinese Communist Party in China.

And many observers fear that Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine playbook is a prelude to Xi Jinping taking a stab at consolidating control over Taiwan — by force if necessary.

That risk has become so acute that two U.S. congressional delegations visited the island this month, an unprecedented show of support. Elected representatives in the United States are making clear that they stand with Taiwan and against Beijing’s attempts at military and economic coercion. This may be a positive development, reflecting lessons learned from the diplomatic posture vis-à-vis Ukraine prior to Russia’s latest campaign of attacks. Or it may be a sign of how rapidly the tides are turning against Taiwan.

The reality of China’s threat to Taiwan demands more action — and urgently. That action should take the form of concrete deterrence against economic and military threats levied by Beijing. It should include resolute rhetoric from American leaders, and people. Taiwan’s vibrant economy and successful democracy should be celebrated. They should be contrasted against mainland China’s non-market system, which needs to steal technology for economic development, and a CCP government that abuses its own people to stifle the truth about the regime.

Taiwan’s sovereignty is Taiwan’s choice, not Beijing’s. Taiwan should be afforded full membership in critical international organizations ranging from the United Nations to the World Health Organization.

In the arena of international sport, athletes from Taiwan should be permitted to compete as Taiwan and not Chinese Taipei. That should be the case in Williamsport this summer just as it should be the case at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

As the film “Sandlot” has taught multiple generations of baseball fans: Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. It’s time for Little League leadership to step up to the plate and make the legendary move to respect the Taiwanese people. The Taiwanese kids playing in Williamsport traveled across the world to represent their country. They’re playing their hearts out on the ballfield and making their families, friends, peers, and country proud. The sad reality is that these boys may one day need to fight on a different battlefield for their country’s survival.

They deserve nothing less than to be called Taiwan.

Nathan Picarsic, a Westmoreland County native living in Pittsburgh, is a co-founder of Horizon Advisory, a strategy consultancy that helps companies and investors assess geopolitical risk, and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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