TAIPEI (Reuters) – A top U.S. university, Johns Hopkins, has backed down on how it refers to Taiwan on a map detailing the spread of the new coronavirus after the island’s government protested at the institution’s inclusion of the island as part of China.
Beijing has been exerting pressure on foreign companies and organizations to identify Chinese-claimed Taiwan as part of China, and often to name it as a Chinese province.
Taiwan has strongly objected to this, saying it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name, that it has never been part of the People’s Republic of China and that Beijing has no authority over the island.
The issue has come to a head again during the virus outbreak, with the World Health Organization listing Taiwan’s case numbers under China’s, referring to the island as “Taipei and environs.”
The designation “Taipei and environs, China” had begun being used by Johns Hopkins on an interactive map it publishes tracking the virus outbreak around the world.
But, in a rare diplomatic victory for Taiwan, the university has now changed that, and again calls the island simply “Taiwan.” Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it had asked its representative office in the United States to lodge a protest with Johns Hopkins.
“During a comprehensive review of the dashboard this week, Professor Lauren Gardner and her team decided to align the names of nations with the World Health Organization’s naming conventions to achieve consistency in reporting,” the university said in an emailed statement, referring to the professor who oversees the mapping project.
“Upon further consideration, the team now uses U.S. State Department naming conventions, including the use of Taiwan.”
Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou expressed approval for the name change, and said the island was looking forward to “deepening cooperation” with the university.
“At the same time we thank the Trump administration and members of the United States Congress for their kind support for Taiwan,” she added.
Taiwan has reported 48 virus cases, compared with more than 80,000 in China, and has won plaudits from experts for effective controls at keeping its tally so low, especially considering it is next to China and how many Taiwanese work and live in China.
Taiwan says its inclusion by the WHO as part of China’s “virus area” has misled countries into believing its situation was as serious as China’s, and to take measures to restrict or ban visits by Taiwanese nationals.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Simon Cameron-Moore)