Close to 10,000 police and security officers have been readied in Taiwan ahead of what organizers believe will be “inevitable” protests during the biggest international event to be held in the country.

Taipei will host the 2017 Summer Universiade – often referred to as the World University Games – from Aug. 19 to Aug. 31. With the arrival of tens of thousands of visitors to the capital and hundreds of international journalists in tow, political activists are expected to attempt to use the event to draw attention to the Taiwan independence movement and the lack of international recognition of Taiwan sovereignty.

Deputy chief executive of the Taipei Universiade Dr. You Shih-ming (游適銘) says the organizing committee has been pushing the message that “sport is neutral” and should not be “interfered by politics” but it is “inevitable” that protests will occur.

“Undoubtedly all kinds of situations will happen, we have to deal with that,” he says. “We have already beefed-up our police personnel to try to maintain security.”

Political activists have confirmed to The News Lens that pro-Taiwanese independence groups are intending to protest inside venues during the 12-day event. In a bid to limit disruptions across the event’s 38 competition venues, 5,000 regular police officers will be joined by about 2,000 student police and intelligence officers from the National Security Bureau. Thousands more police from central and southern Taiwan will be on standby.

Strict regulations on the size of flags and banners allowed inside stadiums have been issued. People carrying signs with politically-sensitive messages will be questioned before they are allowed into venues.

“If we find some ‘special’ flags, we will ask their intentions,” Dr. You says. “If they say that they are just taking it inside without planning to disrupt our games, without protesting or political meetings, I think we will try to respect that. But if they really do protest, we will have to stop them.”

The standard operating procedure, Dr. You says, will see official volunteers first to try to “gently persuade” activists to stop their protests before police or security personnel get involved. If protests or other disruptions do break out, activists will be removed from venues but allowed to remain in designated “protest zones” nearby.

Chu Mu-yen (right) of Taiwan during the men's -58kg taekwando bronze medal competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. REUTERS

What’s in a name?

As is the case at most major international sporting events featuring Taiwan over the past 36 years, Taiwanese will compete in the Universiade as “Chinese Taipei” – the name was agreed to by the International Olympic Committee in 1981, as part of a deal for Taiwan to use an anthem, national emblem and flag different from those officially used in Taiwan.

Chu Mu-yen (朱木炎), 35, was the second Taiwanese to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. He now coaches the national taekwondo team and is an associate professor at the National Taiwan Sport University. He says that “every [Taiwanese] athlete wants to use the name ‘Taiwan,’” but their feelings about competing as Chinese Taipei are “very mild.”

“We identify with our country and love our country,” Chu says, but he notes that it is better for athletes to compete under the Chinese Taipei name than not compete at all.

Still, ahead of the Universiade, many in Taiwan civil society have taken umbrage at having to be called "Chinese Taipei" on home soil. The name is seen as an illustration of the fact that Taiwan is not officially recognized as a country by most nations and that its participation on the international stage is increasingly conditional on China's tacit approval – Beijing claims self-governed, democratic Taiwan is a renegade province.

Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), a former student leader who remains an influential political activist in Taiwan, says the naming convention is “quite ridiculous.”

“Even though the event is being held in Taiwan, we still have to face the problem of naming – Taiwan or Chinese Taipei,” he says.

Legislators from the reform-focused New Power Party, including leader Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), sharply criticized organizers after it was revealed earlier this week that the English-language media guides for the Universiade referred to the country as “Chinese Taipei.” Local media reported that the event’s organizing body – the International University Sports Federation – had changed the term in the guides from “Taiwan” to “Chinese Taipei” after the material was submitted by officials in Taiwan.

Dr. You confirmed that it is the local organizer’s intention to limit the use of Chinese Taipei to only reference the official Taiwanese team and delegation.

Lin, who was one of the key leaders during Taiwan’s 2014 Sunflower Movement, says it is the responsibility of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) government to reflect the broad dissatisfaction in Taiwan society at being “undermined” whenever Taiwanese join international events.

“I think it is pretty important that the government takes a stand on this situation. If they keep silent, then no one else [internationally] will speak up for the Taiwanese people or Taiwan’s status,” he says. “If they decide not to protest or take a stand, then the civil society has to do it.”

By relying on civil society to protest on Taiwan’s behalf rather than taking direct action itself, the government risks opening itself up to further criticism if activists are physically removed from stadiums, Lin says.

“I believe it is better for the government to not only allow people to bring flags [with political messages] into stadiums, but also make clear its own position on this issue.”

Dr. You says that while he personally understands the frustration over the nomenclature and notes that polls in Taiwan show an overwhelming majority disagree with the use of “Chinese Taipei” – “It is our home country, why can we not say Taiwan loudly?” – he suggests Taiwanese should show their patriotism by going to events and supporting their athletes.

“Even though we are a democratic country and people have the right to express their opinions, [the games] is not the right place,” he says.

Likewise, Chu, himself a former gold medal winner at the Universiade, says that he does not support the idea of pro-Taiwan independence activists using the games as a platform to protest.



Huang Kuo-chang and Lin Fei-fan.

Chinese ‘boycott’

Relations between China and Taiwan have remained on edge since Beijing froze official communication with Taipei after President Tsai and the Democratic Progressive Party took office in mid-2016. China continues to encroach on Taiwan’s already-narrow diplomatic space and block Taiwan's participation in international fora.

Dr. You says event organizers are working hard to stop international geopolitics taking the focus away from the high-quality sport on offer – about half of all Olympic medal winners first win a Universiade medal – or the showcase of “our beautiful island, Taiwan."

This was made more difficult after Chinese officials decided to stop a large number of their athletes from competing in the Universiade and reportedly tried to influence how the Taiwan president would be referred to during the event’s opening.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) told reporters last month he had fielded a request from Chinese officials that during the event President Tsai be referred to as "leader" instead of "president,” local news website The China Post reported. Ko says he refused the request.

In May, a meeting of the heads of delegations from the 141 countries competing at the Universiade was held in Taipei. In attendance were several Chinese sports administrators. They told their Taiwanese counterparts that China would not be competing in the team sports events but its athletes would still compete in individual events. The reason given by the Chinese was that the teams’ schedules conflicted with important national sporting competitions.

While that official line from China does not necessarily make sense – more than 100 Chinese athletes remain scheduled to compete in the individual events – Taiwan organizers said they “respect” the decision. In fact, Dr. You suggested the move is seen somewhat favorably by the Taiwanese side as it will limit the chance of physical clashes between Taiwanese and Chinese athletes – in March, fights broke out between Chinese and Taiwanese ice hockey players competing at the Under-18 World Championship in Taipei.

“The competition between our team and China is sometimes a little bit sensitive. So if they only take part in the individual events, it is not a bad situation, he says.

Chu, who won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and bronze four years later in Beijing, says when he was a competitor the Chinese taekwondo team “wasn’t as strong” as today. Taiwan athletes now feel “double the pressure” competing against China, but that is more because of the high standard of the Chinese athletes rather than for political reasons, he adds.

Rare showcase

As Taiwan Business TOPICS’ Chris Horton reported earlier this year, the prior biggest international events held by Taiwan include the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, 1948 Taiwan Province Expo and the 1935 Taiwan Exhibition held when the island-nation was under Japanese colonial rule. Moreover, as Horton notes, the scale of the event in Taipei – more than 12,000 athletes and officials in 22 sports – outmatches the number of participants at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Read more:
Universiade Countdown Begins: Will Taiwan Be Ready for Its Biggest Sporting Event Ever?

Additional reporting by Rosemary Chen

Editor: Olivia Yang