Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - In a show of national pride, Taiwanese participants in the 2004 Olympic Games were due Wednesday to raise the island's flag in a ceremony at the Olympic village in Athens, undeterred by China's most recent attempt to deny Taiwan international recognition.
The 88-strong "Team Taiwan" is the largest contingent sent to any Olympic Games, and its athletes hope to win more than the record five medals (one silver, four bronze) Taiwan took home from Sydney four years ago.
Although it offers no competition to its giant neighbor -- China came in third in the medal count in 2000 and is taking 407 athletes to Athens -- Taiwan has in recent days nonetheless been the target of a muscular Chinese offensive.
Beijing regards the island democracy as a rebel province, and Chinese officials were reportedly unhappy to see advertisements extolling Taiwan at the Athens international airport and on the sides of city trolley buses.
Featuring images from Taiwan, the ads formed part of a $900,000 publicity campaign that included full-page color ads in European media during the Games, which begin on Friday, Aug. 13.
Taiwan was alerted to China's pique late last week when the Athens organizing committee (ATHOC) asked for the promotional material to be removed from the airport and buses.
Despite protests and intervention by lawyers, the ads were taken down at the weekend, according to Taiwan's Government Information Office (GIO).
Approached for comment Wednesday, an ATHOC representative in Athens quoted official spokesman Serafim Kotrotsos as saying that "there was no pressure from any government" to remove the ads.
"In the host city contract that Athens has, only Olympic-related advertisements are allowed in the Athens area," he said.
But Kotrotsos' explanations have been rejected by the GIO, whose director-general -- Lin Chia-lung -- said at a press conference in Taipei that it was "a lie" the ads violated regulations.
Lin pointed out that the organizers had earlier approved Taiwan's application to use them, implying they would not have done so if there was any problem with the content.
"We feel sorry that they caved in to political pressure and breached the Olympic spirit and the contract they had signed with us," he said.
From the start, Taiwan sought to deny China any pretext to respond negatively by using the name "Chinese Taipei" rather than "Taiwan" on the ads.
"Chinese Taipei" is the term used by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and many other international organizations to refer to Taiwan. Some international bodies refer to Taiwan as "Taiwan, province of China," also in order not to upset Beijing.
If Taiwan could not use the name approved by the IOC -- Chinese Taipei - then what name could it use in its promotional campaigns, Lin asked.
He said the incident again highlighted China's bullying behavior.
"While the Olympic Games have not yet started, China has already launched political warfare against us ... this is not an isolated case, nor is it the first and definitely not the last one."
Lin said he had sent a letter to ATHOC President Gianna Aggelopoulos-Daskalaki urging the organizers to separate sport from politics and to reconsider.
"This sudden and surprising decision is disheartening to us back home in Taiwan at a time when we were eagerly anticipating our team's performance in the Games," he wrote.
A representative of the "Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee," Danny Hsieh, said he doubted the controversy over the advertisements would affect Taiwan's competitors.
"The athletes will continue to focus on their goal, which is to get a good record -- that's all they need to do and are asked to do," he said by phone Wednesday.
Hseih said he doubted the row would worry members of the team, who were proud to represent Taiwan and excited at the prospect of the competition.
The athletes, joined by about 50 other Taiwanese delegates and officials, were due to raise the flag at a ceremony Wednesday, he said.
The team has competitors in 14 sports, including weightlifting, archery, shooting and baseball. Its hopes are especially high for the martial art of taekwondo, which could bring Taiwan its first-ever Olympic gold medal.
China has worked for years to isolate Taiwan in the international community, gathering support against it in bodies like the World Health Organization and complaining when Taiwanese leaders pay visits to other countries.
Last June, lawmakers in several Asia-Pacific countries accused China of interfering in their sovereign affairs after Beijing sent letters urging them to boycott the inauguration of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian.
The latest row comes at a time tensions across the Taiwan Strait are running high.
Taiwanese Vice President Annette Lu said last Friday that relations with China had entered "a state of quasi-war," elaborating this week by saying China would by the end of this year have increased the number of missiles it has aimed toward the island from 500 to 800.
Senior Chinese officials have complained in recent months about what they see as excessive U.S. support for Taiwan.
Beijing says American military exchanges and arms sales to Taiwan constitute breaches of earlier accords between China and the U.S.
Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but under the Taiwan Relations Act remains committed to help the island defend itself.
See Earlier Stories:
China Accused of Bullying Tactics Over Taiwan Inauguration (June 03, 2004)
No Room in UN Health Body for Taiwan, Says WHO Head (April 21, 2004)
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