Portugal Colonial - Tiny Taiwan Winter Olympics team weathers frosty Beijing ties

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Tiny Taiwan Winter Olympics team weathers frosty Beijing ties
Tiny Taiwan Winter Olympics team weathers frosty Beijing ties

Tiny Taiwan Winter Olympics team weathers frosty Beijing ties

Only four Taiwanese athletes will compete at the Winter Olympics, in frosty temperatures rivalling Beijing and Taipei's relations -- which have plunged to their lowest point in years.

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China views self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

The last time Beijing hosted the Olympics, in 2008, ties were much warmer.

But Chinese President Xi Jinping has ramped up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on the island in recent years.

At Friday's opening ceremony, when Olympic squads will march into the stadium in order, observers of the island's geopolitical struggle will be listening closely to how Taiwan is announced, and where it is placed.

Since 1981, Taiwan has competed in international sports events under the deliberately ambiguous name of "Chinese Taipei" -- "Zhonghua Taipei" in Mandarin -- in a compromise with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Athletes cannot fly the Taiwanese flag or use the island's anthem.

But at a press conference last week, a Chinese spokesperson said "Zhongguo Taipei" when referring to the island -- which translates more to "China, Taipei" and hints at Beijing's sovereignty claim.

The minuscule language change prompted a strong reaction from Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top China policy-making body.

"We urge the organisers this year to abide by the rules of the Olympic Charter and not to interfere with the event with political factors to suppress and belittle our side," spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng said.

Chiu accused Beijing of "intentionally" using a different name.

"These tactics to belittle (Taiwan)... will not achieve any result and will only disgust Taiwanese people."

- Parade placement -

Modern Taiwan -- officially known as the Republic of China -- was formed at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists were defeated by Mao Zedong's Communists and set up a rival government on the island.

At each Olympics, China and Taiwan's historic tussle is highlighted.

During the Tokyo Summer Games last year, a local news anchor introduced Taiwanese athletes as coming from "Taiwan" in Japanese during the Parade of the Nations -- delighting many fans in Taiwan but sparking huge anger online in China.

The team was also called out to march in order of Japan's 50-tone phonetic system, joining the line at the "ta-" for Taiwan, instead of the "chi-" for "Chinese Taipei".

Taiwanese news outlet Liberty Times reported last week that the Beijing 2022 opening ceremony could see the island called out with Hong Kong and Macau, both Chinese territories.

That placement in a globally televised event would showcase Beijing's claim that the island is part of "One China", a stance Taiwan's current government rejects.

- 'Please cheer us on' -

Some Taiwanese had called for the island to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

At a protest in Taipei last week, activists held up Olympic rings that they had handcuffed to their wrists.

"The Beijing regime damages human rights and the rights of its own athletes," said lawmaker Fan Yun of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, who attended the protest.

"It's not qualified to host the Olympics."

Taiwan has not joined the US-led diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games over China's human rights record.

No government officials will attend the opening and closing ceremonies "due to precedent", its governing sports body said Tuesday. Beijing has cut off official communication with the current government in Taipei since 2016.

However, the island's Olympic delegation will be present for both ceremonies -- a decision made because the IOC was "requiring" their attendance.

Taiwan's Olympians have steered clear of the geopolitical minefield, focusing instead on the competitions.

Lin Sin-rong, who will compete in the luge women's singles, said the Winter Games were "very special" for her.

"I can spend the Lunar New Year and compete in Asia," she wrote in a recent Facebook post.

"Please cheer us on."