Part of Xi Jinping’s effort includes challenging Taiwan’s de facto existence through attacking its very name.
What’s in a name? Apparently quite a lot if you live in Abkhazia, Israel, Kosovo, Northern Cyprus, or South Ossetia. The same is true for the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan), whose name and status has remained in contention since its founding in 1912. The Republic of China was led by Chiang Kai-shek and fought a bitter civil war against the Communist forces of Mao Zedong. In 1949, Chiang’s forces were defeated and forced to retreat to the island of Taiwan, ceding control of the mainland to Mao. Since then, Beijing has always claimed that the Republic of China ceased to exist and has worked to undermine the use of the names “Republic of China” and “Taiwan.” In other words, Beijing considers Taiwan not as a state, but as a breakaway province of the communist People’s Republic of China and will only refer to it as such.
On the other side of the Taiwan Strait, the majority of Taiwanese, roughly two-thirds, support the status quo of de facto independence without recognition by the mainland or by the United Nations. Only a minority, 23.5 percent, want outright independence and a limited number, 10.4 percent, desire unification with mainland China, according to a recent poll. Despite these numbers, Chinese President Xi Jinping believes now is an opportune time to use his consolidated and newly indefinite powers to “reunite” Taiwan as part of China’s “Great Rejuvenation.”
Part of Xi’s effort includes challenging Taiwan’s de facto existence through attacking its very name – an exercise that could be called “namefare”. Much like shamefare, coined by Harry J. Kazianis, a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Center for the National Interest, namefare resorts to non-military means to fight geopolitical battles. In this seemingly petty exercise, the war is eventually won when one state controls the name that is used or the opposing side’s name falls out of widespread use. Victory also can encompasses which names receive diplomatic and political recognition, are used in commercial trade, and which are referenced by websites.