Many Young Taiwanese Want to Go to the Olympics With a New Flag and Anthem

by Nicola Smith / Nov. 11, 2016 / Time

“Taiwan is functioning as an independent state whatever China says”

As one of Taiwan’s most famous rock stars, Freddy Lim used to express his politics by screaming death metal lyrics for his band Chthonic, the “Black Sabbath of Asia.” Now, at 40, while still sporting his trademark ponytail and playing the occasional gig, Lim has taken a political path as a new member of Taiwan’s legislature, but his message of independence from China remains the same.

The charismatic “rock ‘n’ roll lawmaker,” known for his black face paint and fondness for leather, is now promoting a “Team Taiwan” competition to design a new flag and anthem to be used by the island’s athletes in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, one which better represents the ethnic diversity of the island. (The current flag bears the logo of the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang, or KMT, which wrote the anthem; Lim argues that this does not reflect Taiwan’s ethnic or political diversity.)

Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China (ROC), competes in every Olympics but must do so as “Chinese Taipei,” an awkward handle based on the name of its capital city. The title emerged from a controversial 1979 ruling by the International Olympic Committee under pressure from mainland China. Aside from its name, Taiwan cannot use its national anthem or flag. Athletes instead receive their medals under a banner depicting the five Olympic rings that has been compared to the refugee flag used this past summer in Rio de Janeiro.

The flag and anthem competition, which ends on Dec. 5, offers an outlet to growing public frustration that the island has virtually no international recognition, even though its 23 million people operate their own government, currency, military and foreign policy.

“We self-govern so actually we are an independent country. What we are asking is to have equal rights, to join and participate in the international community,” says Lim. “Most people in Taiwan don’t feel comfortable having our national team called Chinese Taipei. This title doesn’t represent this country.”

But any nod to Taiwan as a separate nation is vehemently opposed by China, which views it as a renegade province to be one day reclaimed — by force if necessary. Beijing lobbies relentlessly to exclude Taiwan from global forums to undermine its legitimacy as its own nation. As a result, Taiwan has been blocked from joining most international bodies, extending from the U.N. to cross-border networks like Interpol or the International Civil Aviation Organization. Most countries, wary of offending China given its economic might, do not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Taiwan’s troubles stem from a complicated past. When the island was freed from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, it was governed from mainland by the KMT. In 1949 the KMT fled to Taiwan from the advancing Communist Party. The nationalists kept their claim to all of China, however, and initially ruled their new island home with an iron fist, invoking martial law.

Taiwanese society eventually evolved toward democracy and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed in 1986. The DPP, which is currently in power, represented a shift in public sentiment toward independence rather than reunification with mainland China. Few citizens want to provoke a war with Beijing by declaring full independence, and the domestic status quo is comfortable even if the lack of international status is grating.

“Taiwan is functioning as an independent state whatever China says and whatever the history,” says Roderic Wye, an Asia expert at the London-based think-tank Chatham House. “The reality on the ground is that Taiwan is independent even if it is operating under the shadow of China.” Read more…

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