Taipei, Beijing still working on Olympic torch path agreement

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan and China have failed to reach a final agreement on Taiwan’s inclusion in the Olympic torch relay, but both sides agreed to make last-ditch effort to hammer out an agreement on the controversial issue. Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairman Chen Min-tong confirmed yesterday that Tsai Chen-wei, chairman of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, had traveled to Beijing the previous day for new talks on the issue and returned to Taipei empty handed last night. Chen refused to brand the negotiations as a failure, saying only that Beijing has raised other issues that have prevented a final agreement from being reached.

He declined to give details on the new “glitches,” only saying that Taiwan authorities had asked Beijing to sign an agreement on the consensus worked out by the two parties in one month of negotiations.

Tsai is expected to resume talks with Beijing soon after holding meetings with officials from the MAC and other government agencies. According to Beijing’s plan, the torch was to enter Taiwan from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam before heading on to Hong Kong.

Taipei rejected the planned route at the time on the grounds that it downgraded Taiwan’s status as a sovereign state by making the Taiwan leg of the relay a section of China’s domestic route.

Taiwan initially requested that the torch arrive and exit via a country other than China but accepted Beijing’s route plan early this week after the latter agreed to designate the Taiwan leg of the relay as part of the “overseas” route and to address Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei” rather than “China, Taiwan” in all Olympics-related documents.

Many are concerned that Taipei’s inclusion in the 2008 Olympic torch relay might not materialize because of fresh conditions set by China. Chen revealed that both sides had reached a consensus after an almost month-long negotiation over the torch relay, but Beijing is now trying to complicate the matter. Repeating his Friday remarks that both sides were just “one step” away from signing the agreement, Chen said the key now was Beijing’s attitude. Chen’s remarks on Friday came in the wake of reports that the Beijing Olympic Games organizing committee would designate Taipei as an “overseas” city, instead of a “domestic” stop in its previous torch relay plan. Premier Chang Chun-hsiung also expressed welcome to the change. Taiwan in April rejected China’s offer to include Taipei in the 2008 Beijing Olympic torch relay route, as it refused to be considered to be a “domestic stop.” But the Beijing games’ organizing committee, without changing the route itself, Thursday renewed its offer, but said Taipei would be among 22 “overseas cities” in the relay. Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin yesterday said the arrival of the Olympic torch would help “market” his city, as well as Taiwan. But he stressed that the activity must be conducted with Taipei being seen as an equal to others, and the country’s dignity must never be compromised. Vice President Annette Lu has demanded China adjust the 2008 Olympic torch relay route before accepting Beijing’s offer. Speaking during an interview on Formosa TV on Friday, Lu said the issue is a word play, in an apparent reference to the re-designation of Taipei as an “overseas” city of the relay route. According to China’s plan released in April, the Olympic torch would travel from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City to Taipei and then continue on to Hong Kong, Macau and several other Chinese cities before arriving in the host city, Beijing.

Claiming that Taiwan would “definitely suffer harm” from such an arrangement, Lu questioned why Beijing would not allow the torch to go from South Korea to Taiwan and then to Vietnam.

As the Olympics are a global event, Taiwan must pay attention not only to the references used by China in Chinese but also in other languages, such as English, Japanese and Spanish, Lu said.

Meanwhile, government spokesman Shieh Jhy-wey said Taiwan will take part in the Beijing Olympic Games to let the world see its athletes’ sporting prowess. Shieh made the remarks in response to U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s suggestion that Taiwan boycott the games to protest China’s human rights violations. Rohrabacher is a co-chair of the House Taiwan Caucus.

Shieh recognized the fact that Rohrabacher’s appeal echoes growing criticism by human rights activists around the world against China’s poor human rights records. But the spokesman said the government has no plan to boycott the Beijing Olympic Games at this moment.

“We look forward to bringing the universal values of freedom, democracy and human rights to Beijing by sending our well-trained athletes,” Shieh said.