So Beijing announced the route of the Olympic torch relay. It’s a long, grand, and glorious march to 2008 and the route will take the Olympic flame nearly 85,000 miles over five continents but it’s the proposed stops in Tibet and Taiwan that are getting the most attention. This week activists protested the inclusion of Mt. Everest as a torch destination. Today, the Taipei government announced it would not allow the torch to cross Taiwan.
“The Beijing 2008 torch relay will, as its theme says, be a journey of harmony, bringing friendship and respect to people of different nationalities, races and creeds,” IOC President Jacques Rogge told the ceremony.
Nevertheless, both Beijing and Taiwan hoped to use the torch relay to bolster political agendas: for Beijing, that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, and for Taiwan that it is independent.
To that end, Taiwan wanted to participate as part of the international route â€” with the torch entering and departing the island via nations other than China. China would like the island run to be part of the domestic route.
In an attempt at compromise that Beijing said Taiwan had agreed to, Olympic organizers said the torch would pass from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City to Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, and then to Hong Kong, which is Chinese-controlled but semiautonomous.
“I sincerely hope that Taiwan compatriots can enjoy the glories and joy of the torch relay,” Jiang Xiaoyu, a vice president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, told reporters.
In dueling statements in the two capitals, Jiang said Taiwan’s Olympic Committee had earlier signed off on the route while Taiwan’s Tsai rejected the notion.
“This route is a domestic route that constitutes an attempt to downgrade our sovereignty,” Tsai said.
Unfortunately, this promises to be the first of many such rows over the next 15 months. What is the solution here?
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.