Environment & Health HKFP Voices

Greenpeace’s Taiwan map error: Oversight or Consequence of China’s NGO Management Law?

by Oiwan Lam

Environmental action group Greenpeace is facing a fundraising crisis in Taiwan after it included the island in a map of China.

Taiwan has been a self-ruling political entity since 1950, but China claims the territory and has pushed the international community to break official ties with the Taiwanese government.

Greenpeace apologised and said it was an error, but the public statement didn’t stop Taiwanese from making their anger known on the organisation’s official Facebook page and calling on their compatriots to stop donating.

greenpeace china taiwan ngo

Greenpeace took down the map and admitted that it had made an error by including Taiwan as part of China. Photo: Greenpeace

NGO workers also speculated that the inclusion wasn’t actually a mistake, but a consequence of China’s foreign NGO management law, which requires groups operating in the country to have a government entity sponsor.

The map of China was part of a report, “Analysis: How cutting China’s coal overcapacity could help tackle its water woes,” released on July 5, and the inclusion of Taiwan quickly caught local attention. Chiu Yubin, former chairperson of Taiwan Association for Human Rights, commented on Facebook two days after the report went online:

Greenpeace raises more than 100 million Taiwanese dollars from Taiwan every year, but it only hires a few campaigners in Taiwan. The group is not very vocal in domestic environmental issues. More importantly, they raise so much from Taiwanese and now they place Taiwan within China’s territory.

Please let others know about this. If possible, you can transfer your donation from Greenpeace to local environmental groups, like Green Citizen Action Association, Citizen of the Earth, Homemakers United Foundation, Taiwan Environmental Protection Union, Environmental Jurists Association and etc.

Come to Taiwan for cash and tread on Taiwan, this is too hypocritical.




His status was shared more than 1,400 times and sparked a social media campaign to withdraw donations from Greenpeace.

In response, Greenpeace East Asia quickly issued an apology, took down the map and explained that it was a mistake. Moreover, they referred to their funding report 2015 and 2016 to show that the funds raised in Taiwan had been allocated for local campaigns.

greenpeace annual report 2015

Greenpeace Annual Report 2015. Photo: Greenpeace

But the apology didn’t cool the outrage. In about two weeks, more than 4,000 people visited Greenpeace’s Facebook page and gave them a one-star rating. Many also left comments such as this one: “Stop donating to this unconscious organisation which insults all people living in Taiwan. It can not be trusted cuz it cannot face the truth which Taiwan is never belong to People Republic of China.”

An ex-Greenpeace staff Renee Chou explained what had possibly gone wrong on the one hand and defended Greenpeace’s work on the other:

I have encountered similar errors many times when I was working [at Greenpeace]. What we could do was to keep communicating with other Greenpeace offices why Taiwan should not be placed inside the map of China. Such rounds and rounds of explanation about ‘Taiwan not being a part of China’ have become internal advocacy and alternative diplomacy.

If we shifted our position, colleagues from the China office were constantly reminded about the position and compromised. Similar maps appeared but they were blocked before going public and hence we didn’t encounter this crisis before… Greenpeace is based in North America and it has been using action, public opinion and citizen power to monitor governments and corporations. Such strategies do not work out in authoritarian China.

Colleagues in the Greenpeace China office tried to maximise the impact of environmental protection work and sometimes jeopardised their own security within the limits of political restriction. This is something that I truly respect.


換個角度想,中國辦公室的同事也因為在綠色和平工作,不斷地被台灣同事提醒並且妥協。之前不是沒有這樣的地圖,而是因為次次都在出版前被擋下,才得以避開這樣的危機。… 綠色和平源自美加,慣於透過行動、輿論、公民力量監督政府與企業,但這些在獨裁極權的中國統統不管用。 在極其有限的政治與言論空間內,將環境工作的影響力最大化,甚至有時冒著自身安危,這些都是我對中國綠色和平同事敬佩不已的原因。

However, another Greenpeace supporter believed that an environmental campaign should not be defined by borders and accused the current criticism of being too antagonistic:

[They said] the 200 million Taiwanese dollars raised in Taiwan should be spent locally! This is a very pathetic and narrow-minded demand in this global era. Let’s take the example of Greenpeace’s fashion detox campaign, most headquarters of chain fashion stores are located in Europe and the US and their factories are in China while their customers are all over the world, including Taiwan. If we really have to detox the manufacturing process of fashion companies, the most effective way is calling for a global boycott. More importantly, we have to pressure the headquarters and ask them to change their policies. […] In other word, even if Greenpeace spent 200 million to hire 20,000 people to protest in front of the H&M flagship store in Taipei, it would not change the policy. The whole production chain has been globalised and Taiwan is at the end of the production chain. The money has to spend on critical spots.

從台灣募了兩億元,就一定要用兩億元在台灣!這在全球化時代是非常狹隘而且可悲的訴求。以綠色和平前陣子在推的「時裝去毒」來說,目前國際知名的連鎖時裝,總部多在歐美,工廠在中國,買的人穿的人在全世界,包括台灣。要改變時裝公司的原料政策與製程,改用無毒製程,最直接有效的方式除了是在全球發起拒買,更重要的是對總公司進行強力施壓,促使其改變政策。[…] 白話說,專款專用花個兩億請兩萬個走路工包圍H&M台灣台北旗艦店三個月,到最後一點屁用也不會有。因為整個產業鍊早就全球化,而台灣,只是這個鏈子的最末端,但錢,要花在刀口上。

The map error also touched on China’s foreign NGO management law that went into effect in January 2017. The legislation says any group operating in China must register with the police and be sponsored by a government entity. Given that Beijing’s official position is that Taiwan is a part of Chinese territory, it’s likely Greenpeace and other NGOs will face similar conflicts in the future.

china ingo

Photo: AFP

NGO worker Sada Chou argued the point on the Taiwan non-profit organisation exchange platform, NPOst:

Let’s put aside [identity] complexes and feelings of being hurt [by the error on the map], the crisis that Greenpeace is facing is a signal reflecting the relationship between the state machine and NGOs: We’ve talking about the threat of mainland China’s legislation on foreign NGO management. It has taken effect now. No matter how angry and how maligned Taiwanese feel, Greenpeace’s China office has no other choice and for sure similar “errors” will continue to happen in the future […] Here I quote from a NGO worker in China: “In Taiwan, it is very easy for you to chant the slogan of independence and autonomy, but in China, the price is that the dozen people in the office would disappear the next day.” Facing such a dilemma, you have to make a choice concerning your values — the environment is a global issue and everything is connected. China is so huge that it has great impact on manufacturing and environmental policies and any environmental campaign could not avoid China. As an environmental organisation, what should you do? As a Taiwanese, what should you do? As a member of the global village, what should you do? Even if we put aside our nationalistic sentiment [of being Taiwanese], as a person who hates the violent and authoritative regime under the Chinese Communist Party, what should we do?

剝去情結、情緒與受傷的情感,綠色和平這次出的「狀況」,實際上是「國家機器」與「非營利組織」這組關係裡危脆的信號:我們從去年開始談《境外非政府組織境內活動管理法》(註 1,下稱「境外法」)的威脅,而今它真實的在現實中發生了,不管身為臺灣人有多麼生氣、覺得自己被矮化被吃豆腐,中國的綠色和平辦公室其實別無選擇(註 2),可以想見未來這樣的「誤植」還會持續發生。[…] 引述某個在中國活動的 NGO 工作者的評論:「在臺灣喊獨立主權很容易,在中國,代價是明天可能整個辦公室 10 幾個人就不見了。」而這樣的兩難帶出的是價值取捨——環保確實是全球性的議題,牽一髮足動全身,中國之大、產業政策、環境政策之鉅幅影響,使它幾乎難以在環境這個議題上被繞過而談,那麼,身為環保組織,你要怎麼辦?身為一個臺灣人,你要怎麼辦?身為一個地球人,你要怎麼辦?即使不涉及國族情感,身為一個厭惡中共政權與暴力的人,你又要怎麼辦?

Chou did not provide any answers for those questions, saying it’s a value judgment that every single individual has to make on their own.

This article originally appeared on Global Voices.

Greenpeace's Taiwan map error: Oversight or Consequence of China's NGO Management Law?