A-list movie stars about to make a grand entrance at the prestigious Tokyo International Film Festival became the latest victims of turbulent cross-strait relations on Saturday after both the Taiwanese and Chinese delegations missed the star--studded ceremony amid a spat over names.
Despite spending days preparing for the 11-day event, Taiwanese actors and actresses failed to reach the eco-friendly “green carpet” after a Chinese delegation insisted that the Taiwanese group add the word “China” to their country’s name.
“Taiwan, China” or “Chinese Taipei” were the only titles the head of the Chinese delegation, Jiang Ping (江平), said he would accept, threatening to boycott the festival if the change wasn’t made.
“Don’t you want to sell your films in the mainland? Aren’t you all Chinese?” he asked the Taiwanese performers.
Despite repeated protests from Taiwanese officials, Chinese officials held their ground, also pressuring festival organizers to make the change. It was an issue of sovereignty and Beijing “would not concede,” Jiang said.
Expressing frustration at China’s move, festival organizers said the problem was a first for them. The two sides should “coordinate between themselves,” they said, according to the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper).
Chen Chih-kuan (陳志寬), head of the Department of Motion Pictures at the Government Information Office, who headed the Taiwanese delegation, said he could not accept Jiang’s demand.
Expressing surprise at the sudden insistence, Chen said the delegation had initially applied to attend the annual event under “Taiwan,” as it had in years past.
The name was accepted by organizers and “we had no reason to make a concession this time around,” he said.
“If it weren’t for Jiang’s insistence, both delegations would have made it to the green carpet,” he told reporters.
Instead, amid the bickering, they missed it.
At a press conference in Tokyo yesterday, the celebrities said they were perplexed and shocked by the incident, although Monga director Doze Niu (鈕承澤) said it wasn’t the first time such things had happened.
Among the A-list celebrities who traveled to Tokyo last week to support films included Vivian Hsu (徐若瑄), Chang Chun-ning (張鈞甯), Ethan Ruan (阮經天) and Mark Chao (趙又廷).
“Chang was ready to walk the [green carpet] looking beautiful in her dress on [Saturday] night ... Ruan, who doesn’t normally wear a tie, tied his especially tight to look handsome,” Hsu said, breaking into tears.
After news broke that the Taiwanese delegation would be unable to walk the green carpet, “Ruan tore his tie off,” she said.
Instead, all the celebrities could do was take photographs of themselves, she said.
The absence of Taiwanese stars left Japanese movie fans puzzled and other Taiwanese celebrities expressing support for the beleaguered delegation, some reports said. Fans were spotted clinging to pictures of Taiwanese celebrities, not realizing that none would be attending.
In Taipei, politicians across party lines universally condemned the Chinese antics, saying it was regrettable a cultural activity had become politicized.
Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said the move “made it very clear” that Chinese pressure on Taiwan’s sovereignty had never ceased. The government’s policy of appeasement toward Beijing “had accomplished nothing,” she said.
“China’s ambitions towards our sovereignty have clearly always existed,” she said. “The [current] administration should not be too naive ... about this incident.”
Approached for comment, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said he supported the Taiwanese delegation and called Jiang’s move “rude.”
“Obviously, the leader of the Chinese delegation, Jiang, made a serious mistake. We have participated in film festivals, including the Tokyo [Film Festival] under the name of Taiwan for years,” Wu said.
Wu said Chen “did the right thing” by rebutting the Chinese delegate’s rude request that the Taiwanese delegate should change its title to “Taiwan, China.”
Wu said he hoped Beijing recognized the existence and sovereignty of the Republic of China and urged China to understand that both sides of the Taiwan Strait are now pursing peaceful development.
Wu said he believed China’s Taiwan Affairs Office would deal with the delegate’s “irrational” request.
Cabinet Spokesman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) also urged China not to infringe upon Taiwan’s rights to take part in the film festival.
Meanwhile at the legislature, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓), who is on the Foreign and National Defense Committee, said he regretted China’s attempt to politicize the art event.
Established in 1985, the Tokyo International Film Festival is one of Asia’s most influential. About 200 films, including six from Taiwan, are vying this year for the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix, which is awarded to the best film. Taiwan will field its strongest showing in years, screening box office hits Monga, Juliets, The Fourth Painting, Let the Wind Carry Me, Zoom Hunting and Taipei Exchanges.
Additional reporting by Flora Wang