China blames 'independence activists' for axing of Taiwan Olympic event

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday blamed “independence activists” for the cancellation of an Olympic event in Taiwan, shrugging off Taipei’s accusation that Beijing’s “political bullying” was behind the revocation of its right to host a youth game.

Tension with China, which regards the self-ruled island as a wayward province, has increased in recent months, as Beijing has grown increasingly suspicious that the government of President Tsai Ing-wen wants to push for Taiwan’s formal independence.

The East Asian Olympic Committee (EAOC) on Tuesday revoked Taiwan’s right to host a youth game in 2019, triggering a heated exchange between Taipei and Beijing.

“We can only continue to urge the international society not to become an accomplice of China’s bullying of Taiwan,” said Taiwan cabinet spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka, adding that the government had made every effort to reverse the EAOC’s decision.

The EAOC did not immediately respond to an email request for comment from Reuters, which was unable to trace its telephone number.

Chinese state media said the decision was made at a special meeting in Beijing on Tuesday, with only Taiwan’s representative at the meeting casting a vote of objection.

The cancellation was due to “certain political forces and Taiwan independence activists” on the island, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said.

“We had repeatedly advised the administration not to challenge the one-China policy and damage the cross-Strait relations,” it said in a statement.

“The EAOC has made a right decision.”

It added that the scrapping was linked to a campaign by Taiwan NGOs seeking a referendum on whether the island should participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics under the name “Taiwan”, rather than “Chinese Taipei”, which had been agreed by both sides for previous Olympic events.

Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its sacred territory, is China’s most sensitive territorial issue and a potentially dangerous military flashpoint.

China has alarmed Taiwan by ramping up military and diplomatic pressure this year, flying bombers around the island and luring away members of its dwindling band of allies.

Beijing has demanded that foreign firms, and airlines in particular, not refer to Taiwan as non-Chinese territory on their websites, a move the White House has described as “Orwellian nonsense”.

The three biggest U.S. airlines, American Airlines Group Inc, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, have changed how they refer to Taiwan on their websites in an effort to avoid Chinese penalties by a Wednesday deadline.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez