TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will not send any officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics but its athletes will attend as normal, the government said on Tuesday, adding a call for China not to use politics to “interfere” with the event or “belittle” the island.
Taiwan competes in most sporting events including the Olympics as “Chinese Taipei” at the insistence of Beijing, which sees democratically governed Taiwan as part of “one China” and inviolable Chinese territory.
Relations have plummeted in the past two years or so as Beijing steps up military and diplomatic pressure to assert its territorial claims, including regular air force flights into Taiwan’s air defence zone, with further massed incursions reported by Taiwan this week.
In a statement, Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council said the island’s athletes would compete in the Games as normal. At least four have already qualified, according to Taiwan’s Olympic committee.
“In addition, considering the limited number of participants and the previous precedent that our side’s officials were often absent, no official representatives will be sent,” it added.
Taiwan’s Olympic committee will lead a delegation to China and handle matters related to the Games, the council said.
“We call on this year’s organisers to abide by the ‘Olympic Charter’ and not use political factors to interfere with the competition and suppress and belittle our side. Relevant government units will also be prepared to respond to various emergencies,” it added, without elaborating.
Authorities in Taipei feared that Beijing could “downgrade” Taiwan’s status by putting its athletes along side those from the Chinese “special administrative region” of Hong Kong at the opening ceremony, a senior Taiwan official familiar with the matter told Reuters.
No Taiwanese officials attended the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, though three senior politicians did. Digital Minister Audrey Tang was due to go to last year’s Tokyo Games, but her trip was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.
At the last Winter Games in South Korea in 2018, Taiwan only sent four athletes, who won no medals. Speed skater Huang Yu-ting is Taiwan’s only returning athlete for Beijing.
Sub-tropical Taiwan, where snow brushes only the highest mountaintops during the coldest winters, has never won a medal at the Winter Olympics.
Taiwan’s best Olympic performance – in August in Tokyo – revived an old debate over whether the island should compete under the name “Taiwan” and saw a surge in pride at being Taiwanese.
There is little obvious public interest in the Beijing Games in Taiwan, which has no tradition of winter sports.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)