Tsai the loser in row over independence push at film awards

  • Taiwan leader has lost the chance to build trust and understanding with the mainland by supporting the controversial comments of winning director at island’s answer to the Oscars
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 10:30pm

Taiwan’s independence-minded leader Tsai Ing-wen seems intent on dragging cross-strait relations to ever-lower depths. She used the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards, the Oscars of the Chinese-language film world, for political gain, her eye on winning votes for her Democratic Progressive Party in municipal elections this weekend. Controversial comments by the Taiwanese winner of the best documentary had already caused a storm among mainlanders, yet she still weighed in, fanning the flames by giving support. An opportunity to use the soft power of shared culture to mend fraught ties has been squandered for the sake of political interests.

The industry’s most prestigious awards are an annual chance for China’s filmmaking elite to come together to celebrate. Although politics and art can at times be inseparable, no matter what the freedoms of Taiwan, the poor relations between the mainland and the island are such that participants need to be responsible about what they say and do. Fu Yue, whose documentary about the commitment of youngsters from Taiwan and the mainland to social movements won a Golden Horse, did not pay heed to the need for sensitivity and used her acceptance speech to push independence.

Unsurprisingly, her mainland counterparts were outraged; actress Gong Li refused to present the best picture award, last year’s best actor winner, Tu Men, said he was honoured to be at an event in “Taiwan, China” and there was a boycott of the after-ceremony dinner that may well be extended to next year’s awards. Social media on both sides of the strait exploded with messages of animosity. Still, Tsai used a Facebook post to further goad Beijing and show non-acceptance of the 1992 consensus that there is only one China.

Film director at centre of Taiwan political storm stands by Golden Horse remarks

Saturday’s elections will be an indicator of whether Tsai has a chance of winning a second term. Under her presidency, though, the island has suffered economically and diplomatically. Beijing has cut official communications, stepped up military activity in the Taiwan Strait and, over the past two years, prized away five of the island’s few remaining diplomatic allies. The efforts have coincided with US President Donald Trump’s making light of his country’s long-standing adherence to the one-China principle by moving closer to Taiwan, his strategy of rivalry with Beijing the impetus.

US Vice-President Mike Pence broke with protocol by meeting Taiwan’s special envoy to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation at the grouping’s recent leaders’ meeting in Papua New Guinea. But Taiwan has much to lose by siding with the United States and keeping Beijing at arm’s-length. Alienating the mainland film industry is also a flawed strategy for Tsai; soft power is an invaluable way to build grass-roots trust and understanding.