TAIPEI -- The 2017 Summer Universiade gets underway on Saturday and the host city of Taipei is busy putting the finishing touches to preparations for the international collegiate sports event.
However, Uganda's back and forth over boycotting the event, apparently out of concern for its relationship with China, has poured cold water over the excitement that had been building ahead of the island's rare opportunity to host such a universal event.
Under Beijing's "One China" principle, whereby Taiwan is regarded as an integral part of China proper, the island has ended up being diplomatically deserted by many countries.
The trouble began on Monday. According to the secretariat of the 2017 Summer Universiade, it emerged that Uganda's foreign ministry had recommended the ministry of education pull the country's team out of the event in light of its One China policy.
Ugandan athletes apparently put up a fuss and managed to change their government's stance, according to Eleanor P. Wang, a spokesperson for Taiwan's foreign ministry during a press conference on Thursday.
A country should not take the withdrawal from a global athletic event lightly, Rony Yang, a spokesman for the Universiade secretariat, told reporters on Tuesday.
Belt and Road benefits
Uganda stands to benefit from significant railroad construction projects under China's Belt and Road Initiative -- a cross-continental economic corridor combining land and maritime routes.
Secretariat officials denied there was any evidence of China pressuring Kampala directly, implying the Ugandan government had simply second guessed Beijing's wishes.
Chinese athletes will take part in individual sports events in Taipei but will boycott soccer, basketball and other team competitions. Some China watchers have said Beijing's stance is designed to exert pressure on the administration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who has categorically refuted the One China policy.
The Chinese delegation is also expected to boycott the opening ceremony on Saturday, allegedly because Tsai will be in attendance in an official capacity. For China to attend would be tantamount to recognizing her as head of a state.
More than 140 countries and territories will be represented at Taiwan's first Universiade. Taipei was chosen as the host at the end of 2011 -- a time when, under the previous administration of Ma Ying-jeou, the island enjoyed much warmer relations with Beijing. Hau Lung-pin, then-mayor of Taipei, said goodwill and support from China had helped the city in its bid for the games.
As Beijing stepped up efforts to bring about unification, however, unease grew among Taiwanese citizens and Tsai's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party was returned to power in May of last year. The coming games will be held under the shadow of worsening relations.
Since the early 1980s, Taiwan has participated in the Olympics and other events under the name "Chinese Taipei."
Use of the name is a measure that enables Taiwanese athletes to take part in global sports; competing as "Taiwan" or the "Republic of China," as the authorities in Taipei refer to the island, would incur Beijing's wrath.
On the morning of Aug. 12, more than 200 people took to the streets of the Taiwanese capital chanting "Taiwan is not Chinese Taipei." The gathering was organized by a pro-independence youth party, the DPP and other groups.
In light of China's growing influence in the international community, most Taiwanese reluctantly accept the name as a necessary compromise to allow their athletes to compete on the world stage.
Uganda's last minute flip-flopping has served as another reminder to Taiwan of the tricky position it holds.