K-pop star intensifies Tawain-China tensions

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Last month, the island of Taiwan elected their new president and once again, questions over Taiwan’s national identity were brought back to the centre stage.

The political status of Taiwan has been a long-term issue for both Taiwan and mainland China, with its historical roots being in the relocation of the Chinese Nationalist Party (the Guomindang) to Taiwan after struggling with the Communist Party for a number years until 1949 after the Chinese Civil War. Taiwan and a number of other nearby islands have been referred to as the ‘Republic of China’ with mainland China being the ‘Peoples’ Republic of China’. Taiwan does not have recognition as an independent state at the United Nations, and the issue of Taiwan’s independence continues to be referred to as, among other names, the ‘Mainland Issue’ or the ‘Taiwan Strait Issue’.

However, on the day of elections for Taiwan’s next president, an unforeseen situation occurred. An unwitting participant in the controversy over the political status of Taiwan emerged, and purely by accident. Chou Tzuyu, of Korean Pop girl group ‘TWICE’, appeared on TV holding a small Taiwanese flag alongside the Korean flag on ‘My Little Television’. Appearing alongside labelmate Jackson Wang of K-Pop boy group GOT7, the two were asked their national identities, with Jackson Wang stating he is from Hong Kong and then answering for Tzuyu that she is from Taipei. The result of this was that captions during the airing of the show stated that Tzuyu considers herself Taiwanese, and as well as this Taiwanese singer Huang An has criticised Tzuyu for apparently considering herself Taiwanese, as the singer considers himself against the concept of an independent Taiwan.

The backlash against Chou Tzuyu has been immense, considering the initial cause of the impact and the fact that Tzuyu did not state herself that she is Taiwanese. Tzuyu was forced to make a public apology after the incident, and both former Taiwanese president and president-elect, Tsai Ingwen, have addressed the controversy and stated their public support for the young singer, who at present is only sixteen years old. Tzuyu’s scripted, 87 second apology includes her stating that ‘the two sides of the strait are one, and I have always felt proud to be Chinese’.

Reaction to Tzuyu’s apology has been mixed; some have accused her of being insincere, whereas some view her apology as a ‘victory’ for young internet users for anti-Taiwanese independence. In terms of reaction from Tzuyu’s record label, ‘JYP Entertainment’, her mainland Chinese promotional activities have been stopped for the time being; her group TWICE’s performance for the Beijing Spring Festival Gala has been edited out of the footage and their invitation to the Anhui Spring Festival Gala has been rescinded.

The Chinese government finds itself unmoved by criticisms from Taiwanese people, who among other things have stated that being unable to show the Taiwanese flag abroad makes them ‘very afraid’ and that they are not allowed to be ‘the same as Chinese people’. Reactions aside, the incident has shown that, when it comes to the issue of an independent Taiwan, even those who should, for all intents and purposes be considered children, are not safe from becoming political symbols in the political discourse.

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Helen Edworthy is a former News & Comment Editor at bathimpact (2013/14). She writes about student and equality issues, popular culture and the University of Bath.

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