Taiwan’s Foreign Trade Offices are Under Pressure from China to Change their Names

Taiwan’s Foreign Trade Offices are Under Pressure from China to Change their Names
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
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There is more evidence China is working hard to narrow Taiwan’s diplomatic space.

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Five Taiwan trade offices with "the Republic of China" or "Taiwan" in their names located in countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan have come under pressure by China to change their names, an official from Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said this week.

Antonio Chen (陳俊賢), director general of the ministry's Department of West Asia and African Affairs, said that if the names of those missions continue to be used, the host countries may ask that the plaques identifying the missions be removed.

That already happened in Dubai in the past month, when Taiwan's office there changed its name from the "Commercial Office of ROC (Taiwan)" to the "Commercial Office of Taipei."

The four other missions under pressure are in Nigeria, Bahrain, Ecuador, and Jordan, and three of the four countries - Nigeria, Bahrain, and Ecuador - are not very resistant to pressure from Beijing, Chen said.

Taiwan also does not have much leverage in those countries, Chen admitted.

Chen was speaking at a news conference organized by ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) and Chuang Jui-hsiung (莊瑞雄), who asked if the countries could withstand Beijing's pressure.

Among the trade missions under pressure are the Trade Mission of the ROC (Taiwan), Abuja, Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Trade Mission of Taiwan to the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the Oficina Commercial de la Republica de China (Taiwan), Quito, Ecuador.

Also still under pressure is the Commercial Office of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in Jordan.

Chen said Nigeria already informed Taiwan in late March that the trade mission should leave within one week, or it could not guarantee its safety.

Out of security concerns, Taiwan's representative to Nigeria has returned to Taiwan and the mission's operations have been suspended.

Chen said the ministry had to weigh many factors when considering a request to change the name of a trade mission.

"Although we feel being belittled, we still have to maintain the offices out of the long-term interests of Taiwan's citizens," he said.

Chen's remarks came a day after Panama announced the switch of diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing and the cutting of all official ties with Taiwan, a decision that left only 20 countries that officially recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan's formal name).

The decision was widely seen as part of China's mounting efforts to squeeze Taiwan since President Tsai Ing-wen's DPP administration took office on May 20, 2016 and adopted a less conciliatory attitude toward China than its predecessor.

Lo also questioned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' warning system signaling the risk of countries throwing their allegiance to Beijing.

After Taiwan's break in ties with Panama, Foreign Minister David Lee (李大維) revealed that of the 20 countries that still have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, two nations are flashing a yellow light, a sign of risk.

Lo said Lee revealed that there are no nations currently flashing a red light -- the highest level of risk -- but Panama was flashing a green light before diplomatic ties were abruptly severed, and he wondered if the system needs to be reviewed.

Chen confirmed that Panama had a green light before ties were cut and said the ministry will learn from the lesson. He pledged that even in countries with a green light, Taiwan's overseas embassies will not let down their guard.