The Taiwan-based Chinese Wild Bird Federation has been evicted from global conservation group BirdLife International after refusing to pledge that it would not advocate for the island state’s sovereignty from mainland China, the latest in a series of attempts by Beijing lobbyists to marginalize the democratically elected government of Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China.
“As an apolitical organization which has never taken a stance on any such issue, we felt it was inappropriate to sign such a document and were unable to comply,” the CWBF secretariat said in a statement after being removed from the group on Tuesday. “We are not political actors, we are conservationists.”
The CWBF was first told in December 2019 that its Chinese name 中華民國野鳥學會, which directly translates to "Wild Bird Society of the Republic of China," posed a risk to BirdLife International.
The organisation asked the CWBF to change its legally registered Chinese name, which it was willing to do. However, Global Council, the body overseeing BirdLife, also required the Taipei-headquartered group to sign a document “committing not to promote or advocate the legitimacy of the Republic of China” according to the CWBF.
“The ministry strongly condemns the Chinese government for its interference and suppression in the completely apolitical field of conservation,” Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement on Tuesday.
BirdLife International declined to comment.
As Taiwan’s largest bird conservation organization, CWBF spearheads efforts in the region to protect the habitats and wild populations of the endangered black-faced spoonbill and Chinese crested tern, which are found across eastern Asia.
“Our commitment to achieving regional and global conservation goals is undiminished by this needless removal,” the statement said, concluding that “birds don’t know borders!”
The Taiwanese group has a history of ruffling feathers. “[We have] previously changed our English name three times at the behest of BirdLife International,” the CWBF secretariat explained.
Increasing Pressure on Taiwan
Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China claim the island of Taiwan as their own, and the former has gone to great lengths to subvert the island nation’s legitimacy by pressuring international groups not to recognize organizations representing Taiwan as a separate country.
“Tsai Ing-wen has spoken about coercive diplomacy being used against countries and corporations, and now NGOs can be added to that list as well,” the CWBF’s director of international affairs, Scott Pursner, told The Telegraph, referring to Taiwan's president.
Since Xi Jinping came to power in China in 2013, he has presided over an aggressive soft power campaign to wear down Taiwan’s international allies, leading to a slew of diplomatic defections ranging from the Solomon Islands and Kiribati in September 2019 to El Salvador in June 2019 and Panama in 2017.
His heavy-handed approach won him few supporters in Taiwan, however, as earlier this year the country re-elected anti-reunification stalwart Tsai, even after her Democratic Progressive Party did poorly in 2019 elections.
During the election campaign, Tsai positioned herself as a bulwark against Xi’s plan to return Taiwan and the former British colony of Hong Kong to the fold of the Chinese Communist Party.
Even so, the slow erosion of public support for Taiwan abroad continues. “[It is] a tragedy that BirdLife International doesn’t see how they are being used by China,” fellow birding group Taiwan Birds noted in a tweet.
BirdLife also notified the CWBF that it would no longer allow its logo to be used at any event with funding from the Taiwanese government, or let its name appear anywhere alongside the Republic of China flag and other Taiwanese emblems.
Even if the CWBF complied with the name change, signed the agreement and accepted BirdLife’s new terms, the organization said it would still be at risk of removal.