EDITORIAL: China might have gone too far, again

Fri, Jan 12, 2018 - Page 8

Chinese boycotting of entertainers or companies that do not toe Beijing’s nationalist propaganda is nothing new — be they Taiwanese singers or actors seen as independence-leaning, such as A-mei (阿妹) for singing the national anthem at a presidential inauguration, K-pop star Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜) for holding a Republic of China (ROC) flag on a South Korean television show, Richard Gere or the Beastie Boys for their support of the Dalai Lama, or Katie Perry for wearing a sunflower dress and draping a ROC flag given by a fan over her shoulders at her 2015 Taipei concert.

Far less common is any effort by those in Taiwan deemed either deep-blue or China-friendly calling Beijing out for such actions, including berating its rush to tar Taiwanese with the “pro-independence” label.

Yet this happened not once, but twice, on Tuesday. However, before anyone wonders if there could be a crack in the deep-blue’s pro-unification stance, or softening of its loathing of independence proponents, something far more basic appears to be at work: concern about the pan-blue camp’s prospects in the end-of-year local elections.

Singer and actress Ruby Lin’s (林心如) television series My Dear Boy (我的男孩) was on Sunday pulled by Guangdong Province authorities amid Chinese netizens’ complaints that it had “pro-independence sponsorship” because one of its Taiwanese producers had accepted a large subsidy from the Ministry of Culture in 2016.

Many deep-blue figures jumped to Lin’s defense, including former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers Alex Tsai (蔡正元) and Chiu Yi (邱毅), who are notably friendlier toward China than other party members.

Tsai on Tuesday urged Beijing on Facebook not to wrong “the innocent,” while Chiu, as a committee member of the Sun Yat-sen School, a KMT-affiliated organization, called on China to refrain from attaching the Taiwanese independence label without substantial evidence.

The Sun Yat-sen School’s political ideology is considered China-leaning as it was established in 2016 under the leadership of then-KMT chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), who is deemed a proponent of unification.

“Doing so would not only hurt people’s feelings, but would also run counter to the spirit of [China’s oft-stated phrase that] ‘both sides belong to the same family,’” Chiu said, adding that Beijing’s willful attachment of the Taiwanese independence label would help no one but the people who actually support independence.

Why did they feel the need to urge Beijing to rein itself in? Chiu’s mention of Chou at his news conference could shed light on the answer.

Chou gained fame in Taiwan after she was forced, under Chinese pressure, to issue a video apology in December 2015 for holding the flag. Her tearful and clearly stage-managed apology outraged many Taiwanese and is believed to be a major contributing factor to the Democratic Progressive Party’s landslide victory in the 2016 presidential and legislative elections.

Proof, if any more was needed, that when Beijing goes too far with its suppression of Taiwan, its efforts backfire.

The most plausible explanation is that the deep-blue camp fears that Lin — or future victims of Beijing’s campaign against Taiwanese independence — could become the next Chou and drive voters into the pan-green camp’s arms again.

Their concerns are legitimate, even if Lin’s office was quick to roll out a statement saying that she had never supported Taiwanese independence and never would.

However, whether China will listen and dial down its hostility is another story.