What you need to know
Beijing imposes a fiction about Taiwan and often gets its way in global institutions. But in the end, nomenclature will never change the facts on the ground.
“In an initial version of the Global Competitiveness Report 2016, Taiwan, China, was incorrectly listed as Chinese Taipei. The change in nomenclature happened as a technical matter — guided by designations used by other international organizations — and in no way signifies a lack of support by the World Economic Forum of the People’s Republic of China’s ‘One China policy.’”
Thus a press release by the WEF on Sept. 29, one day after the release of the report. Due to a “technical matter,” the WEF used the reviled misnomer “Chinese Taipei” adopted by many international institutions to refer to Taiwan or the Republic of China. No doubt Chinese officials, or the typical scared-of-his-shadow counterpart at the organization, quickly alerted the powers that be at the WEF and had the name changed back to the PRC’s preferred fictional version of the world.
Up until 2006, the Global Competitiveness Report actually referred to Taiwan as Taiwan. After that and due to pressure by Beijing, the report referred to Taiwan as “Taiwan, China.”
Give it a few years and the English could very well mimic the designation that now frequently pops up in Chinese-language reports in the PRC — that is, with the scary possessive of a 12-year-old that doesn’t want to share his toys with others: China’s Taiwan (中國的台灣).
Seeing the correction, the government in Taipei immediately announced it would contact the WEF, arguing that proper designations are more than mere “technical matters.”
The spinelessness of world institutions is indeed dispiriting, as is the infantile silliness of a would-be superpower that throws a fit whenever it doesn’t get its candy. But all of this ultimately doesn’t matter. Annual reports can use whatever name they want to describe Taiwan. It will never change the fact that its society — a highly successful liberal democratic one at that — is distinct, idiosyncratic, and utterly incompatible with that of the PRC.
While Beijing obsesses over “Chinese Taipei,” “Taiwan, China” and ludicrous possessives (browbeating those who fail to play along), Taiwan continues to modernize its society and to strengthen its democratic institutions. While Beijing threatens, Taiwanese celebrate their country becoming the first in the world to have a transgender minister — a hacker at that, whose mandate is, among other things, anathema to that in Beijing: to make government more open, more transparent, and more accountable.
China and morally flaccid international institutions can play their silly word games all they want. In the end, what truly matters are the facts on the ground, not what Taiwan is called in annual reports. And the facts, dear reader, are built here on the ground, every day, across Taiwan, its successes very much those of its people and achieved with resilience and in spite of the many injustices that have been erected against it over the decades.
Call it whatever you want, it will never change the fact that Taiwan is a fascinating place — imperfect, yes, but a hell of a success story nonetheless, one that, above all, was built without any help from the PRC.
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White