Taipei accuses Beijing of dragging sport into politics after youth games suspended

Multimillion-dollar international event was to be held in Taichung next year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2018, 10:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2018, 10:50pm

Taiwan accused mainland China of dragging sport into politics on Tuesday after a multimillion-dollar international youth event due to be held on the island next year was suspended.

It comes as Beijing ramps up military and diplomatic pressure on self-ruling democratic Taiwan, which it sees as part of its territory to be brought back into the fold.

According to Taiwan sports officials, members of the East Asian Olympic Committee (EAOC) voted in a meeting in Beijing on Tuesday to revoke Taichung city’s right to host the first-ever East Asian Youth Games in 2019.

Taiwan voted for the games to continue as planned, while Japan abstained. The other members of the committee – mainland China, South Korea, North Korea, Hong Kong, Macau and Mongolia – voted for the suspension, according to Taiwanese officials.

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Taiwan’s presidential office said the EAOC had made the “wrong decision” and accused Beijing of bullying.

The Taichung city government expressed indignation, saying it had already invested T$670 million (US$21.9 million) to build facilities for the games.

The decision comes a day after gay rights activists in Taiwan accused Beijing of pressuring organisers of the Gay Games to bar the island’s national flag at next month’s competition in Paris.

The mainland is particularly sensitive to Taiwan’s use of names, emblems and flags at international events.

These sensitivities – backed up by Beijing’s clout on the world stage – mean Taiwan is forced to compete as “Chinese Taipei” at the Olympics and a host of other international sports competitions.

Taiwan’s Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee said on Tuesday it believed the axing of the youth games was linked to Beijing’s anger over a campaign by NGOs and some leading local athletes for a referendum on whether the island should join the 2020 Tokyo Olympics under the name “Taiwan”, not “Chinese Taipei”.

The EAOC and the Olympic Council of Asia were not immediately reachable for comment.

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Relations between Taipei and Beijing have deteriorated since President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office two years ago, as her government refuses to recognise the island as a part of “one China”.

Beijing has cut off official communication with Tsai’s government.

Under pressure from Beijing, a growing number of international airlines and companies have recently changed their website classifications of Taiwan to “Taiwan, China” or “Chinese Taipei”.

China has also poached four of Taiwan’s few remaining official diplomatic allies since Tsai came to power.