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Taiwan concert clash reveals divisions over China's outreach

Posted October 2

— Police are looking for a final suspect involved in clashes at a Chinese-organized concert in Taipei between Taiwanese pro-independence protesters and Beijing supporters that revealed divisions over China's influence on the self-ruled island.

Beijing insists that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland are part of a single Chinese nation and has vowed to take control of the island by force if necessary. It has been stepping up economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan's government over President Tsai Ing-wen's refusal to endorse Beijing's view that both sides belong to "one China."

The clashes, which injured five at a concert in Taipei, were the latest example of rising tensions. Ties have frayed over Chinese military movements near Taiwan, slowing Chinese tourism to the island and the trial of a Taiwanese activist in China on vaguely defined charges of subversion.

More than 30 people, mostly students, stormed the Sing! China Music Festival stage Sept. 24 at National Taiwan University, city spokesman Liu Yi-ting said.

Some threw eggs at the stage and carried placards calling for "Taiwan independence" and the release of Lee Ming-che, the Taiwanese activist being tried for subversion. Some protesters shouted "We are Taiwan National University, not China Taiwan University."

The organizers, including a Shanghai cultural promotion group with a focus on Taiwan, conceived Sing! China as a contest for singers and bands. Performers were from both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Organizers suspended the concert after the protests, but a fight between the protesters and pro-Beijing fans of the event hurt five people, including four students, leaving one with a broken finger, said Lee Chia-wei, a police detective in the Xinyi District of Taipei. Some attackers used bats, he said.

"They reported a difference in political views, and then their arguments led to fighting," Lee said.

The suspects could be charged with assault and making threats. Police are still looking for one more person and are investigating the cause of the violence, the detective said.

The protesters were likely concerned that the concert is part of Chinese "soft power" diplomacy in Taiwan targeting the island's youth, said Shane Lee, a political scientist at Chang Jung Christian University in Taiwan.

More upsets like the concert protest are inevitable because Taiwanese worry about China's growing economic clout alongside its insistence that it reunite with the island, said Chao Chien-min, an expert at the Chinese Cultural University in Taipei.

Protesting students "might think more exchanges with China are rather dangerous," he said. "They will wonder whether economic ties will be combined with politics."

In Beijing, a spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office last week criticized the pro-independence protesters, saying most Taiwanese have long supported interactions between people from both sides.

"This was a simple and normal music exchange activity loved by young people across the Strait," Ma Xiaoguang told reporters, saying the protesters had politicized the event.

Relations between China and Taiwan have cooled since May 2016, when Tsai took office in Taipei. China has shown its discontent with Tsai by sending an aircraft carrier around the island, forming ties with two countries that once recognized Taiwan diplomatically and scaling back visits by Chinese tourists.

The president told her Democratic Progressive Party at a congress Sept. 24 it must come up with new ways of interaction with China. Party members should neither "irrationally hate" China nor "blindly please" it, she said.

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