BEIJING -- China is calling it the "journey of harmony." But the Olympic torch relay that is to precede the 2008 Beijing Summer Games and showcase China's peaceful rise in world standing ran into discord as soon as the route was announced yesterday. The path of the flame and its characterization by China drew the immediate wrath of Taiwan, where Chinese Nationalists fled in 1949 after a lengthy civil war.
"China has designated the Taiwan leg of the Olympic flame relay as a 'domestic route,' thereby creating the misimpression that Taiwan is a region under China's jurisdiction," according to a statement released late yesterday by Taiwan's Olympic Committee. "We resolutely reject this."
Beijing, which considers Taiwan a part of its territory, is unlikely to change its plans. The mainland considers it a political compromise to have established the route to Taipei via Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam before continuing onto China via Hong Kong.
"The Taiwan government is not happy because they consider this a very significant political message," said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, an independent think tank in Taipei. "Symbolically, it makes Taiwan part of China."
The uproar underscores the politically sensitive nature of hosting an international sporting venue for Beijing, which sees the Olympics as critical to its international standing.
In a nationally televised ceremony, organizers unveiled the Chinese Olympic torch in the shape of a slick silver scroll decorated with traditional red cloud motifs. The designer is Lenovo, China's leading technology company, which acquired the computer division of IBM in 2005 and became the world's third-largest computer maker. It's a nod to China's history as the inventor of paper and a tribute to its growing economic and technical might.
The relay crosses five continents and includes stops at the summit of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak; the ancient silk road; and the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
Beijing has vowed to do all it can to make sure the games go smoothly. Officials are determined to reduce traffic congestion and stop residents from spitting and speaking broken English. But politics are harder to control.
On Wednesday, police detained four protesters from the New York-based Students for a Free Tibet. They had displayed a banner reading "One world, One dream, Free Tibet," at a base camp of Mount Everest. As with Taiwan, Beijing claims Tibet as its own and has resisted independence for the Himalayan region for decades.
China is also fighting off threats of an Olympic boycott for not doing more to end genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, a country where China is a big investor. Beijing as usual warned against politicizing the games.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, "Using any excuses or political reasons to boycott or oppose it would go against the broad goodwill of the international community."
Ching-Ching Ni writes for the Los Angeles Times.