Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned China for coercing the University of Salamanca in Spain to cancel a series of Taiwanese culture events last year.

In a blog post on Saturday, Spanish PhD candidate Xiani Perez-Cheng published an email sent by the Embassy of China in Spain to the university last October, demanding the cancellation of their “Taiwan Cultural Days” events. The embassy said: “We demand your University adheres to the ‘One China Principle’ and takes measures to avoid and eliminate the adverse effects.”

University of Salamanca
The University of Salamanca. Photo: Katie Bordner via Flickr.

The embassy went on to condemn the invitation of Taiwan’s Representative to Spain Simon Ko to speak at the event, saying: “[It] causes confusion and misunderstandings about the Taiwan problem.”

They said that failure to cancel the event would affect the university’s relations with China, which is included in the recommended directory of China’s Ministry of Education.

However, Taiwan’s foreign affairs ministry criticised the move in a tweet on Sunday: “‘Taiwan problem?’ There is no ‘Taiwan problem.’ The only problem is China suppressing Taiwan culture [and] academic freedom in a sovereign [and] democratic state far from its shores.” They added a statement from the Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu, who said: “We need to ask the question: When is it going to end?”

As cross-strait relations worsen, the People’s Republic of China has taken measures to limit Taiwan’s overseas activities. Last month, Taiwanese activists accused the Beijing of pressuring organisers of the Gay Games in Paris to bar the use of the island’s national flag. The Civil Aviation Administration of China has also forced international airlines to change their destination names for Taiwan to “Taiwan, China,” claiming that failure to do so would result in limited access to the Chinese market.

According to Perez-Cheng, the University’s Dean of Social Sciences cancelled the event the next day without explanation: “Due to circumstances not related to the School of Social Sciences we hereby inform you the scheduled activities for the ‘Taiwan Cultural Days’ on October 25th and 26th have been cancelled,” he said in an email to students.

University of Salamanca's "Taiwan Cultural Days
University of Salamanca’s “Taiwan Cultural Days” pamphlet. Photo: Xiani Perez-Cheng.

Perez-Cheng, who is also a visiting scholar at the National Taiwan University, said in a tweet on Sunday that the university is a victim of Chinese pressure: “To be fair, the situation took Salamanca [University], also a victim, totally by surprise. They didn’t know of any protocol to implement when dealing with [China]. In Spain, China’s propaganda has been running unchecked for decades with the help of influential people in the tank for [China].”

Beijing claims that Taiwan – officially known as the Republic of China – is a province of China. It does not recognise it as an independent country, though the island has been self-ruled since its split from the mainland after the 1949 civil war.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.