Bjork Declares 'Tibet!' at China Concert
By CARA ANNA – 3 hours ago
SHANGHAI, China (AP) — Icelandic singer Bjork has ignited criticism from Chinese fans after she declared "Tibet! Tibet!" to end a passionate performance of her song "Declare Independence" during a concert in Shanghai.
China is getting tougher on Taiwan’s government. It is also luring its people
The outburst at the finale of Bjork's Sunday night concert drew rare public attention inside China to Beijing's often harsh rule over the at times independent Himalayan region of Tibet.
Bjork's statement was not reported in the state-controlled media, but online sites were aflame with angry comment after word leaked out.
WHEN is a country with its own territory, laws, elected government and army not a country? Answer: when China deems it so. In recent days Chinese officials have ordered foreign businesses, including airlines operating flights to China, to “correct” websites that list Taiwan as a country, as well as remove images of the island-state’s flag. Censors even shut down the Chinese website of Marriott, one of the world’s biggest hotel chains, for a week as punishment for categorising Taiwan as a country in a customer questionnaire (the firm caused additional offence by putting Hong Kong, Macau and Tibet in the same category, which—to be fair to China—they are not).
"If she really did this, then this woman really makes people throw up," one comment on popular Chinese Web site Sina.com said.
China’s rabidly nationalist netizens have even called for a boycott of Marriott. But more than losing business, foreign operators in China fear running foul of sweeping new cyber- and national-security laws. Among much else, these prohibit anything deemed to “damage national unity”. The apologies issued by some operators were party-speak. Marriott said, “We absolutely will not support any separatist organisation that will undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Delta airlines apologised for hurting the feelings of the Chinese people. Zara, a European fashion chain, even promised a “self-examination”.
Some at the Shanghai concert said the politically tinged finale made audience members uneasy,
For Taiwanese, it is more proof that China is out to squeeze them until the pips squeak. The Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, but considers it a sacred mission to bring the island under its control. China threatens force should Taiwan formally declare that it will remain independent for ever. The party views even “peaceful separation” as an abomination.
"The atmosphere was very strange, uncomfortable compared to the rest of the concert," said audience member Stephen Gow, a British teacher who lives in Shanghai. People didn't boo, Gow said, but they left the Shanghai International Gymnastic Center hurriedly.
China mixes bullying with blandishments. The bullying, of which the move against foreign websites is part, is meant to shrink Taiwan’s diplomatic space and exert psychological pressure. Since Tsai Ing-wen became the island’s president in May 2016, China has shut down high-level contacts across the Taiwan Strait that had burgeoned under her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou. Unlike his Kuomintang (KMT) party, with its historical roots in China, Ms Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party aspires in its charter to formal independence. The president herself, a pragmatist, has made plain her goodwill, by promising from the start that she will not rock the cross-strait boat. The independence clause lies dormant. She blocked attempts to expand a new referendum law to allow plebiscites on matters of sovereignty, including on Taiwan’s official name (the Republic of China).
Officials at the China-based company promoting the concert, Emma Ticketmaster, said they had no comment.
But for China none of this is good enough. It views the referendum law as a step towards a vote on independence. It has even attacked laudable new legislation aimed at redressing human-rights abuses that occurred during the years of KMT dictatorship. China sees the bill as an attempt to erase all sense of a Chinese identity among Taiwanese: in those days, the KMT was proud of its Chinese nationalism, even though it hated the Communists. Above all, China is furious with Ms Tsai for refusing to acknowledge the “1992 consensus” between the two sides: that both Taiwan and the mainland belong to a single China, and that they agree to disagree what exactly China means.
Bjork has used "Declare Independence" — the lyrics include the entreaty "Raise your flag!" — to declare political support for various causes.
So Taiwan is in the doghouse. Some policymakers were relieved that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, did not suggest he would get even tougher with it when he spoke at a big party gathering in October. Even so, his uncompromising remarks about Taiwan drew the longest applause of anything he said. Soon after that meeting, he told President Donald Trump that Taiwan (not North Korea’s nukes) was the most critical issue in Sino-American relations. Mr Xi talks of China’s “great rejuvenation” by 2049. That surely implies the return of Taiwan to the fold by that date.
She dedicated the song to Kosovo while performing last month in Japan. Her video for the song shows her in a jumpsuit bearing the flags of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, far-flung territories controlled by Denmark.
The pressure continues, then. On the diplomatic front, the 20-strong band of countries that recognise Taiwan is bound to be whittled down further, following Panama’s switch to China last year—Honduras, Palau and St Lucia could be next. Earlier this month China reneged on an agreement with Taiwan by announcing four new commercial air routes that run either close to the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait or close to Taiwan’s main offshore islands. Taiwan described this unilateral move as a threat to air safety and to the island’s security. But it is powerless. Taiwan is not a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, whose Chinese head previously ran the civil-aviation authority that declared the opening of the air corridors.
China's 58-year rule over the formerly independent mountain nation of Tibet has drawn frequent condemnation from foreign governments and activists, often inciting a prickly nationalism among the Chinese government and ordinary people. Many Tibetans consider the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as their rightful leader.
China has been flexing military muscle, too. Since 2016 its warplanes have carried out “island-encircling” patrols. China’s state media have published images of these, with Taiwan’s mountains in the background. A recent exercise in northern China involved storming a full-sized mock-up of Taiwan’s presidential palace.
In a sign of Bjork's reputation for unpredictable behavior, Shanghai's English-language newspaper, Shanghai Daily, last month heralded her concert date with the headline "Bjork's Shanghai Surprise."
Come on over sometime
All this is out of the old playbook. Mr Xi’s innovation is to single out young Taiwanese and to pile on the blandishments. Colleges offer Taiwanese teachers better pay than they could get in Taiwan. Chinese provinces are opening research centres aimed at young Taiwanese. In the southern city of Dongguan, Taiwanese tech entrepreneurs can get free startup-money and subsidised flats. Over 400,000 Taiwanese now work in China. The young in particular are crossing the strait in droves.
Lin Chong-pin, a Taiwanese scholar and former senior official, calls this Mr Xi’s “soft prong”. In some respects it seems to be reshaping attitudes towards China. It does not help Ms Tsai that she has failed to make much progress on her promise to create more opportunities for the young. Taiwan’s economy remains sluggish. The young think older generations get the better deal. But she gets the blame for tricky cross-strait relations more than Mr Xi does. A recent poll even shows Taiwanese feeling more warmly towards Mr Xi than to Ms Tsai. They do not admire China’s political culture. But Mr Xi may be nurturing a reluctance among young Taiwanese to bite the hand that feeds them.