British bird group issues gag order over Taiwan-China issue

TAIPEI (Reuters) - A British-based wild bird body has issued a gag order telling employees not to comment on its decision to expel a Taiwan conservation group that refused to sign a document related to the Chinese-claimed island’s political position.

Taiwan’s Chinese Wild Bird Federation (CWBF), based in a small Taipei office, this week became the latest and unlikely front in the geopolitical battle between China and democratically-run Taiwan.

In a statement on its Facebook page, CWBF said BirdLife International removed it as a partner after it refused to sign a document committing to not promote or advocate the legitimacy of the Republic of China or the independence of Taiwan from China. The Republic of China is Taiwan’s formal name.

China has ramped up pressure on international groups and companies to refer to Taiwan as being part of China, part of efforts to assert its sovereignty, to the anger of Taiwan’s government and many of its people.

While the Cambridge-based BirdLife International has not commented publicly on the issue, in an email to staff that was reviewed by Reuters, its CEO Patricia Zurita referred to the “sadly public statement” issued by CWBF on the issue.

BirdLife as a matter of policy does not comment on internal and governing matters related to its partners, she wrote.

“If you receive any queries regarding this matter, please DO NOT offer comment and instead refer the matter to me directly,” Zurita said.

Zurita did not respond to an emailed request for comment, nor a message left on her mobile phone or message sent to it.

In a brief emailed comment to Reuters late on Thursday, BirdLife said they will try to respond more fully as soon as they can.

Since the news broke, messages have been posted on BirdLife’s social media pages denouncing their decision to remove CWBF as a partner, and saying BirdLife has kowtowed to China’s Communist Party.

The CWBF has been shocked by the decision, saying it was a non-political organisation and could not sign any political documents as they were conservationists not politicians.

The CWBF declined to comment on the gag order, referring instead to its earlier statement.

However, a major partner of BirdLife, Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told Reuters it was continuing its work with the CWBF.

“There are no political preconditions,” it said in an emailed comment.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry