C: Pascal Mauerhofer – Unsplash

Taiwan’s ‘Chinese Wild Bird Federation’ (CWBF) has seemingly become the latest victim of Chinese pressure on international organizations not to recognise Taiwanese independence or democratic integrity, with the group forced to withdraw from UK based BirdLife International – a ‘supposed’ non-political global partnership of NGOs aiming to to conserve birds and their habitats.

C: Richard Lee – Unsplash

The stated reason for the withdrawal by CWBF from the BirdLife International partnership, in full, reads as follows:

By: CWBF Secretariat

It is with great sadness that the Chinese Wild Bird Federation must announce its removal from the BirdLife International partnership. Though a proud, faithful, and strong member of the partnership since 1996, the CWBF was told in December 2019 that it now posed a risk to BirdLife International due to its Chinese name (中華民國野鳥學會).

To rectify this, BirdLife International had required the CWBF to change its legally registered name in Chinese. This was something that the CWBF, as a loyal partner, was willing to discuss. In fact, the CWBF had previously changed its English name three times at the behest of BirdLife International. BirdLife’s governing body, the Global Council, also required the CWBF to sign a document formally committing to not promote or advocate the legitimacy of the Republic of China or the independence of Taiwan from China. As an apolitical organization which has never taken a stance on any such issue, we felt it was inappropriate to sign such a document and were unable to comply. We are not political actors, we are conservationists.

Beyond requiring the CWBF to change its name and sign the declaration, BirdLife International also notified the CWBF that it would no longer participate in or allow its logo to be used in relation to any event related to or totally or partially funded by the government of Taiwan, its agencies or “provincial” authorities. Furthermore, BirdLife International would no longer participate in or permit its name or logo to be used in relation to any event or in relation to any document, study, report or any other form of communication where the Republic of China flag, Taiwan symbols/emblems, and/or Taiwan governmental symbols/emblems were utilized or displayed. It was explained that this was necessary since it would be “odd” for BirdLife to distance itself from the “independence agenda” of the Republic of China but to also benefit financially from the government of that entity. Such a statement is clearly a political determination and one which should not be made by a global conservation organization such as BirdLife International.

Lastly, it was expressed to the CWBF that regardless of the name change, signed document, or acceptance of these new rules of engagement with BirdLife International, the CWBF might still be removed as a risk.

The CWBF did its best to communicate with BirdLife International regarding these demands. The CWBF’s democratically elected executive board and supervisory council also held meetings on the matter. It was even to be discussed at the upcoming CWBF General Assembly. However, before the matter could be taken up with the General Assembly, on September 7, 2020, the BirdLife International Global Council stated that CWBF had not addressed the “risks” and voted to remove it from the partnership.

We at the CWBF are no risk. What we are is a strong and effective partner in global conservation with a proven track-record. This is evidenced by our leadership in regional conservation over the years as well as work in habitat and Black-faced Spoonbill conservation. Our removal potentially casts a shadow on the good conservation work done by so many, especially here in Asia. It also seems to be an example of politics getting in the way of good conservation.

Though a sad moment for bird conservation, the CWBF will continue to be a true partner in conserving bird species and global biodiversity. All hands are needed to accomplish global conservation goals and we have never faltered in trying to do our part. Included in this is our important work protecting species such as the Black-faced Spoonbill and Chinese crested tern, and helping lead the way in Asia on citizen science projects such as eBird Taiwan and the Taiwan New Year Bird Count.

The CWBF would like to thank its member associations and many supporters for their steadfast backing over the years. Our commitment to achieving regional and global conservation goals is undiminished by this needless removal. We look forward to continuing to work with partners at home and abroad to address a real risk, the risk of extinction faced by countless species worldwide. Birds don’t know borders!

C: Boris Smokrovic
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