China boycotts ceremony in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The 100-strong Chinese delegation
boycotted the opening ceremony of the World Games in Taiwan on
Thursday, underscoring the limits of the historic breakthrough in
relations between Taipei and Beijing.

The Chinese gesture is likely to ruffle feathers on this
democratic island of 23 million people, which under President Ma
Ying-jeou has moved aggressively to improve ties with the mainland,
its once-bitter enemy.

While the Chinese delegation did not say immediately why it
boycotted the ceremony -- a comment on state-run China News Service
acknowledged the presence of Chinese athletes in Taiwan, without
mentioning the opening ceremony -- the act is almost certainly
related to Ma's role in declaring the games open.

In his opening remarks, Ma simply declared the games to have
begun, without mentioning the boycott.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949 and the communist
mainland still views the island as part of its territory. Because
of this claim Chinese attendance at the ceremony could have been
seen as lending legitimacy to Ma's presidential role. That would
contradict Beijing's long-standing position that Taiwan lacks state

Under a hazy summer sky in the southern city of Kaohsiung, more
than 3,000 athletes and staff from 105 countries and territories
marched into the World Games Stadium, a new, eye-catching structure
designed by renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito.

But under the gaze of the capacity crowd of 40,000, the Chinese
team was absent from the ceremony, with a single Taiwanese staff
member carrying a sign marked "China," and another carrying a
Chinese flag.

Some in the crowd applauded this representation of the communist
colossus to the west, but many booed, in a clear sign of
displeasure with the Chinese action.

The mainland's boycott stands in contradiction to the rapidly
improving relations between the sides.

Since taking power 14 months ago, Ma has jettisoned his
predecessor's pro-independence policies, tightening economic links
with the mainland, and lowering tensions across the 100-mile-
(160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait to their lowest level in 60

Ma believes that the two sides can nurture their friendship
while putting political questions on the back burner, and has
expressed consistent support for a formal peace treaty with

Most Taiwanese support his policies, though events like the
World Games boycott do not help the mainland's image on the island,
which is already undermined by perceptions that it is austere and

Taiwan invested about $220 million in the World Games, a
quadrennial event featuring 21 non-Olympic sports, like sumo and

Many Taiwanese see it as a golden opportunity to stretch the
limits of the island's international isolation -- it is absent from
bodies like the United Nations, and is recognized by only 23
countries -- and do not appreciate moves to restrict its space.

In a contrary display, they broadly welcomed Beijing's
acquiescence in permitting Taiwan to attend the May meeting of a
U.N. health body as an observer.

Political scientist Lo Chih-cheng of Soochow University said
that after the Chinese delegation's snub many Taiwanese will raise
tough questions about Ma's cross-strait policy.

"Ma has been telling Taiwanese that Beijing accepts his claim
that Taiwan and China can agree to differ on whether the two sides
belong to the same country, but the Chinese delegation's no-show
has contradicted that," said Lo, who generally supports the
pro-independence opposition. "This will lead people to question
the legitimacy of Ma's statements."

But fellow political scientist George Tsai of Taipei's Chinese
Culture University -- usually a supporter of the government -- said
that China had shown goodwill by allowing Ma to preside over the
opening ceremony.

"Beijing could demand the World Games follow Olympic rules and
forbid Ma to attend, but it didn't," Tsai said. "This shows
Beijing has made concessions."