Whilst the flying of the wrong flag at North Korea’s first Olympic women’s football match in Glasgow had all the comic elements of the BBC’s excellent drama Twenty Twelve, and was just an honest mistake, the saga of the Taiwanese flag in London’s Regent Street is altogether more serious and depressing.
Taiwan’s flag went up in Regent Street – along with those of the 205 other nations competing in the London Olympics – on 21 July. The flags were not part of an official Olympic display, but a worthwhile and colourful initiative by the Regent Street Association, celebrating the diversity of the countries taking part.
By the 24th, Taiwan’s flag had disappeared. The Chinese embassy had complained to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who in turn contacted the Regent Street Association. Now in its place is the flag of the entirely invented entity “Chinese Taipei”, a name that was adopted in 1981 in order to let Taiwan compete in the Olympic Games. This is the flag behind which the Taiwanese athletes will enter the Olympic stadium tonight.
The treatment of Taiwan and its 23 million people by the international community is a disgrace. It is a democratic country where governments change through the ballot box and where human rights are respected. It is also an immensely important trading partner for the UK: they send 83,000 tourists and 16,000 students here.
Hardly anyone comes out of the Regent Street flag debacle with credit. Certainly not the Chinese embassy, whose hostility to Taiwan’s identity is implacable, nor the Foreign Office, which should not have intervened, nor the Regent Street Association which should not have given in.
Only Dr Lyushun Shen, Taiwan’s ambassador in the UK, emerges with dignity. Who can disagree with him when he says “In a democratic country and in a larger sense, we believe this kind of issue should be regulated by freedom of expression without undue intervention from a third party”?
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