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(News Focus) K-pop singer's apology over waving Taiwanese flag fuels controversy

All News 18:16 January 18, 2016

By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, Jan. 18 (Yonhap) -- The video of a 16-year-old native Taiwanese girl apologizing to the public for waving the flag of Taiwan showed the power of the Chinese market in the South Korean pop industry and the politicization of the issue ahead of the Taiwanese presidential election.

Many celebrities tend to restrain themselves from expressing political opinions. They know that once their stance is exposed, whether right or left, they can be framed into a specific political identity and bombarded with criticism from those who are opposed to it.

Touching upon matters that are sensitive nationwide is even more taboo.

Chou Tzu-yu, also known as Tzuyu of the multinational K-pop group TWICE, stood at the center of a political storm without speaking a word of support or opposition regarding relations between China and Taiwan.

The 16-year-old Taiwanese native has been embroiled in a heated row after she held up the flag of the Republic of China in an online-exclusive portion of "My Little Television," a variety show of South Korea's major TV network MBC, in November.

The Republic of China is the official name of Taiwan, but Beijing believes the island should be part of the People's Republic of China, which governs mainland China.

The flag was prepared by the program's producers with the aim to introduce the group members who are from different countries.

For Tzuyu, born and raised in Taiwan until she came to South Korea to become a singer, waving the Taiwanese flag was rather natural.

The scene, which was not even broadcast on television, sparked controversy during a sensitive time in Taiwan's presidential election as it turned viral in mainland China and the island after Taiwanese singer Huang An, known for his anti-independence views, brought forward the issue.

The case has infuriated Chinese citizens, with some Chinese TV stations canceling schedules for not only TWICE but also other JYP artists.

Following public outcry mostly from mainland China, Tzuyu's agency, JYP Entertainment, has apologized twice stressing that she did not have any political intentions.

In an apparent move to calm controversy, Tzuyu finally came forward and expressed her own personal apology on Friday.

In the video clip posted on the YouTube and China's social media network of Weibo, the 16-year-old star said she "definitely endorses the One-China policy, and has always been proud of herself as a Chinese."

The One-China policy is a view that there is only one country called China despite the existence of two governments.

"I extended my apology belatedly as I did not know how to handle this situation," she said, bowing twice while reading her one-and-a-half-minute statement.

"I am so sorry for harming my company, the Chinese and Taiwanese Internet users, and cross-Strait relations ... Looking back on what I've done, I will suspend activities in China," she said.

In a separate message, JYP chief Park Jin-young also apologized for "mismanaging" his artist, and vowed "to make utmost efforts to prevent any recurrences down the road."

Such an apology by JYP reflects the power the Chinese market holds over South Korean entertainment agencies.

At a point where the domestic market can only provide restricted opportunities, China is the land that suggests a rosy future for the industry.

When the game changer started to boycott all the artists from the agency and added Tzuyu to the banned search list in Weibo, the apology could have seemed like the only choice.

Despite allegations that the 16-year-old was forced to apologize to secure the entertainment agency's market presence in China, her agency released another statement Monday saying that the apology was done with the consent from the artist after having a consultation with her parents.

"In advance of expanding the K-pop industry, understanding the culture of diverse countries is a basic assignment," an official from a local management agency said.

The issue has attracted intense media attention in both Taiwan and China at a time when Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), that wants independence from China, has been elected as the island's first female president.

The president-elect said in a press conference held right after her victory that Tzuyu's case of a 16-year-old girl suppressed for waving the national flag urged her to strengthen the country.

Taiwanese local media reported that some 1.34 million young voters headed to polling stations stimulated by the controversy.

Some 19.5 percent of the votes Tsai Ing-wen earned were from the younger generation, the South China Morning Post said, citing a poll result.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war. China's ruling Communist Party claims sovereignty over Taiwan, but the landslide victory of Tsai Ing-wen shows that many Taiwanese people support the island's democracy.

A call for self-examination about the witch hunt of the 16-year-old girl is also rising in mainland China.

The social media of the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, released an article on Sunday defining the netizens' reaction as fanatical populism.

It also criticized Taiwanese politicians for injecting political meanings into a young person's meaningless action and denounced JYP for pursuing commercial interests and forcing the girl to apologize.

Now, people have turned their criticism toward Huang An, who first raised the issue, for framing the girl as an independence activist for the sole reason of waving the Taiwanese flag. On the Internet, footage of Huang An vigorously waving the flag in the past has gone viral.

"The mischief-maker Huang An destroyed the mutual trust of cross-Strait relations, politically persecuted a 16-year-old girl and aggravated civic relations between cross-Strait relations," a critique of a local daily paper said.

scaaet@yna.co.kr
(END)

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