Chinese performers at an international folkdance festival in Israel touched off a diplomatic flap earlier this month by snatching a Taiwanese flag during the festival and bullying the Taiwanese troupe in attendance as they tried to protect their flag, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials said yesterday.
Performing at the "22nd International Folkdance Festival" in Israel by invitation, a Hsinchu-based folkdance troupe was forced to protect its national flag as culture gave way to politics and dance to violence, said Antonio Chen (陳英賢), the ministry's director of West Asian Affairs.
"Before, it was mainly just the Chinese government trying to suppress Taiwan through diplomatic channels," Chen said at a routine press briefing yesterday. "Now, it's Chinese citizens directly bullying Taiwanese citizens."
Ministry spokesman David Wang (王建業) told reporters that Chinese dancers became enraged during a performance in the Israeli city of Afula on July 4 after seeing the Taiwanese flag displayed on-stage alongside the national flags of other participating foreign troupes.
The livid Chinese dancers then snatched the flag, creating a ruckus that quickly snowballed into a diplomatic incident as Israeli police were called in to restore order, Chen said.
"Our dancers were shocked and angry," he said.
The brouhaha escalated after the Taiwanese troupe, "doing as any civilized national would," began waving the Taiwanese flag during their performance to protest the Chinese dancers' "uncivilized behavior," Wang said yesterday.
The ministry said that one of its representatives on site served as a bodyguard for the troupe as it tried to fend off attacks by the Chinese dancers.
At that point, Israeli police arrived at the scene and confiscated both the Chinese and Taiwanese troupes' flags.
The Chinese embassy in Israel pressured event organizers into forbidding the Taiwanese troupe from waving its flag during a performance scheduled for the following day -- a move that led to the Taiwanese troupe's withdrawal from the festival, it said.
The ministry later released a statement stating that "the foreign affairs ministry strongly condemns China's brutal political interference in a cultural exchange event and deeply regrets that organizers didn't adhere to just and fair principles in its treatment of Taiwan's troupe."
Chen said yesterday that Taiwan would request that in similar future international events Chinese and Taiwanese participants be separated.
Chinese participants at international events are known to have assaulted or bullied Taiwanese in attendance.
At the International Children's Games in Thailand last year, Chinese sports officials yanked Taiwanese flags off the shoulders of two Taipei swimming champions as they walked toward a stage to collect their gold medals. Other foreign winners wore their respective national flags during the ceremony.
In January, Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng's (
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