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Credit: Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center

The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, which maintains an interactive map tracking the number of coronavirus cases worldwide, changed how it refers to Taiwan, Axios has learned. Instead of “Taiwan,” the label was changed to “Taipei and environs.”

Why it matters: The change tracks closely with how the Chinese government prefers to refer to Taiwan, which it views as part of Chinese territory.

Update: After attracting criticism, the center has reversed its decision.

  • Screenshots from early February show that the JHU coronavirus map still used "Taiwan" as a category under a section called "Confirmed cases by country/region."
  • But as of March 10, "Taipei and environs" was used to refer to Taiwan's capital city and surrounding areas.

What they're saying: When contacted by Axios, Lauren Gardner, an associate professor of civil and systems engineering at JHU who directs the map project, at first said they would be changing it back to "Taiwan" immediately.

  • However, a JHU spokesperson later said they would retain the term “Taipei and environs” and would be adopting the World Health Organization naming scheme, which also uses “Taipei and environs” to refer to Taiwan.

Where things stand: Johns Hopkins said in a March 11 statement to Axios that it had reversed its position and would now refer to Taiwan in its map.

  • “During a comprehensive review of the dashboard this week, Professor Lauren Gardner and her team decided to align the names of nations with the World Health Organization’s naming conventions to achieve consistency in reporting. Upon further consideration, the team now uses U.S. State Department naming conventions, including the use of Taiwan.”
  • The reversal came after several U.S. lawmakers criticized the use of "Taipei and environs" and after Taiwan's government said it would protest the name change.
  • As of March 11, the map once again lists Taiwan under the "Cases by country/region" tab. An asterisk next to Taiwan leads to a footnote that reads, "The names of locations correspond with the official designations used by the U.S. State Department, including for Taiwan."

The big picture: Over the past several years, the Chinese government has increasingly sought to control how international organizations and companies refer to Taiwan, insisting that they change the wording to align more closely with the Chinese Communist Party's "one China" principle.

  • In 2018, the Chinese government threatened airlines around the world with retaliation if they did not change wording on websites and on-plane reading materials.
  • Those airlines now list the capital of Taiwan as simply "Taipei" or as "Taipei, China."

Go deeper: China's push to erase Taiwan

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include new comments from JHU, and the phrase "one China" principle has been clarified to reflect the Chinese government's position.

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