The residents of a downtown condominium complex didn't intend to spark Olympic controversy when they hung the flags of more than 90 nations from their balconies. To them, it was just another way to welcome the world.
But the presence of two flags from Taiwan has raised concern on both the local and national level.
Twice, on Wednesday and again the following day, representatives from the Washington embassy of the People's Republic of China visited Canyon Road Condominiums, on Second Avenue near Memory Grove, asking that the flags come down.
"It took a couple of times for them to understand that this is private residence, not a government building, and that the government did not give us these flags," resident Annetta Mower said. "We thought the idea of the flags was exciting. We had no idea that it would raise any kind of controversy. "
The Chinese government does not recognize Taiwan as a separate nation. Nor does the International Olympic Committee, which in 1979 drew China back into the fold after a 25-year absence, by passing a resolution that only officially recognizes mainland China with full membership, embassy First Secretary Dizhong Huang said.
Taiwan is recognized by the IOC as a region of the mainland government and is referred to as Chinese Taipei. This designation is the reason that during Friday's opening ceremonies, Taiwanese athletes marched behind the Olympic flag, not the flag of Taiwan.
And it is the only reason embassy representatives were interested in where and when the flag of Taiwan is displayed in Salt Lake City, Huang said. Under the IOC charter, it cannot be flown at any official Olympic venue or gathering.
"We want to go with the Olympic spirit, and the Olympics do not want politics," he said. "We do not want to make trouble, but we want to make sure everything is by the rules."
China won the bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games an effort that was supported by the government of Taiwan, even though Taiwan will likely not share in hosting responsibilities.
Huang also said that the Chinese government respects American laws and the right of a private citizen to hang any flag he or she prefers. And embassy officials said they would not persist in its initial request for removal of the flags.
"We know that Salt Lake has a very good friendship with Taiwan," he said. "And we know that sometimes (Americans) do not understand our politics."
Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949. For the past 30 years, the United States has followed a "one China" policy, recognizing China as a country, and the island of Taiwan as part of it. During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush said the United States should clarify its policy toward Taiwan. Last April, he said he would do whatever it takes to help the island defend itself under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
Some local residents who are also Chinese nationals say it might be best if the flags come down.
"I recognize that they care about being a good host. I appreciate that they took the time to fly the flag to show good hospitality, but why bother if it raises other issues," said Jimmy Lu, who owns the Shanghai Garden restaurant in Midvale and is the past chairman of the Utah Organization of Chinese Americans.
Lu said he has spoken to many others who share his feelings including his wife, who is a native of Taiwan. He compared hoisting the Taiwanese flag to flying the Confederate flag in the United States.
"It is part of our history, and we can't ignore history, but we just like to see one China," he said.
Weber State University professor Taowen Le agrees. Sometimes, the best intentions, combined with a lack of understanding about political or cultural differences, can unnecessarily injure the feelings of others, he said.
"Yes, people have their own freedom to choose, but they have to be responsible for those actions," Le said. "People may think that what they are doing is innocent and good, but sometimes it is not perceived as innocent."
Mower said that she and other residents of the building have no intention of removing their flags. More than 200 decorate the building, which can be seen from the entrance to Memory Grove. Residents paid $11 each for their flags and selected which ones they wanted to display.Comment on this story
"We have flags flying from some nations that aren't even in the Olympics and from nations we don't particularly support right now," she said."We do appreciate their perspective, but this is America."