A merged Chinese-Taiwanese flag. Image: iStock/Getty Images
Taiwan has strict limits on Chinese involvement in Taiwan companies. Photo: iStock/Getty Images

With the recent publication of “The Blue Book on the Cyber Rule of Law in China 2018,” Beijing appears again to be attempting to exterminate Taiwan’s de facto existence as depicted on international websites. The “blue book,” compiled by the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Internet Development Research Institution of Peking University, was revealed on January 12 at Peking University in Beijing.

In turn, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) strongly condemned China for pressuring multinational companies, saying Beijing’s threats “violate the spirit of free international commerce.”

In the blue book, 66 of the world’s top companies, including Apple, Amazon, Nike and Siemens, are identified as failing to label Taiwan as “Taiwan, China,” and warned of potential legal consequences. Beyond legal penalties is the implicit threat that companies that do not comply with Beijing’s request could face boycotts by Chinese consumers or have their websites or apps blocked in China.

The publication and warning are the latest in Beijing’s campaign of “namefare” over the use of “Taiwan” on the websites of multinational companies. Last year, Chinese authorities also targeted international airlines and other companies, resulting in 44 airlines making adjustments to their websites and such major international brands as Delta, Marriott, Qantas and Zara issuing apologies to China for listing Taiwan as a country on their websites. Back then, the White House referred to Beijing’s demand as “Orwellian nonsense.”

In reaction to the latest threats, Taiwan’s MOFA reiterated that the Chinese government needed to recognize the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan), arguing firmly that “Taiwan is absolutely not a province of the People’s Republic of China, nor is it subject to the jurisdiction of the Chinese government.”

Indeed, the People’s Republic of China has never set foot on or ruled the island, although Taiwan was loosely administered as a prefecture of Fujian province (1683-1886) under the Qing Dynasty. The Qing upgraded the island to provincial status for seven years (1887-1895) before handing it over to Japan under the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki.

While Taiwan’s MOFA has called on governments to help their multinational companies refuse China’s demands, those companies targeted by Beijing will likely again relent under pressure, fearful of decreases in revenue and profit from Chinese customers on the mainland boycotting their products, state-sponsored cyber hacking or Chinese authorities making it more difficult for their operations in China.

Yet despite the expected capitulation by multinationals, each attempt at “namefare” to discredit Taiwan’s existence serves as another reminder to other governments, companies and their citizens of Beijing’s extraterritorial reach. For if Beijing is willing to threaten multinationals over such a minor offense as failing to label Taiwan as “Taiwan, China,” surely more extreme measures can taken on those with more serious disputes.

Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a senior analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, US News and World Report, Newsweek, The Diplomat, The National Interest, EurasiaNet, and the South China Morning Post. He spent six years in Shanghai, four years in Ho Chi Minh City, and is now based in Taipei.

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