The Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has condemned UBC’s decision to label Taiwan as a “Province of China” in its 2019/20 enrolment report.
MOFA spokesperson Ou Jiangan said at a Monday, July 6 press conference that the ministry has instructed the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver to lodge a complaint with UBC directly.
“We urge the University of British Columbia not to bow to China and to correct how it addresses Taiwan,” she said.
“Employing ‘Taiwan (Province of China)’ as a term to characterize UBC students from Taiwan is simply discriminatory,” reads an emailed statement from the embassy.
UBC spokesperson Kurt Heinrich said in an emailed statement that moving forward, the university “will only refer to Taiwan without any additional descriptors in future reports.”
Heinrich said that the university adopted ISO 3166 in 2018 as its standard for referring to countries in university systems, noting that the standard has origins in the United Nations.
“The University of British Columbia is aware of the political sensitivities of Cross-Strait relations. As a non-partisan post-secondary institution, however, UBC does not take stands on political issues,” he said.
“It is important to be clear that the utilization of ISO data standards is not indicative of the university taking a position regarding Taiwan.”
Hugh Stephens, Vice-Chair of the Canadian Committee on Pacific Economic Cooperation, said “it may just be a one-off technical issue on the part of UBC, but on the other hand, because these things are sensitive, one has to be very careful in dealing with it and be aware of the consequences of what’s being done.”
In an email to The Ubyssey, Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa Institute for Science, Society and Policy with knowledge in Chinese technology and politics, said that “this action by UBC makes it complicit in China’s attempts to intimidate Taiwan.”
“UBC has good technology people,” she said. “They should find a way to manually delete the part in brackets after the name ‘Taiwan.’ If they can’t find a way to do that, UBC should use a different software. The cost of this one in compromising Canadian values is too high.”
— with files from Andrew Ha
This article was updated to include comment from university spokesperson Kurt Heinrich.