March 3, 2016 / 7:19 AM / 2 years ago

Cyber warriors spar over Taiwan's relations with China

A hacker, who requests not to have his name revealed, works on his laptop in his office in Taipei July 10, 2013. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) - Rappers in China and Taiwan are among the combatants squaring off in cyberspace after a landslide election win for the island’s independence-leaning party fanned Beijing’s fears that it could renew a push for sovereignty.

Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won presidential and parliamentary polls in January, reviving China’s concern that the self-ruled island might be emboldened to seek formal independence.

DPP leader and president-elect Tsai Ing-wen says she wants to maintain the status quo and peace with China, but that has not deterred Chinese internet users from airing critical views on social media such as Facebook, provoking sharp responses in Taiwan.

“There’s only one China, HK, Taipei, they are my fellas,” run the opening strains of a song by Tianfu Shibian, a rap group based in China’s southwestern city of Chengdu.

On its Twitter-like Weibo microblog, the group claims more than 7 million views for the music video of its song, “The Power of Red”, which uses patriotic images laced with profanity to pour scorn on Tsai, her party and its independence notions.

The song targets Taiwanese and foreigners unfamiliar with the complexities of Taiwan-China politics, aiming to dispel “misunderstandings,” said Wang Zixin, the group’s leader.

“They just think us Chinese, or the mainland, are always bullying them,” he added. “Through the song lyrics we want to say China is a peace-loving country, but we aren’t chickens.”

The music video can be viewed on foreign websites such as Youtube, which is inaccessible in China, as is Facebook, but has yet to make a splash in Taiwan.

In Taipei, prominent rapper Dwagie, who backs the DPP, often raps in Taiwanese Hokkien to spotlight the island’s individuality, rather than using Mandarin, the official language of both sides.

Chinese performers of songs such as “The Force of Red” should look to tackle the country’s many social problems, from children’s education to medical services for remote areas, before worrying about Taiwan, said Dwagie.

“I want to know what the people who write these songs, and the netizens, are really thinking, deep down,” he said. “Is there really nothing more important than whether this island belongs to you, or if Taiwan is independent or not?”

China deems democratic Taiwan a breakaway province to be taken back by force, if necessary.

FLOOD OF POSTS

Thousands of posts flooded Tsai’s Facebook page after the election win, demanding that the island be brought under China’s control.

China’s internet users were just “exercising their freedom of speech,” said DPP spokesman Yang Chia-liang.

“We don’t know if all more than one billion Chinese people can access the Internet and log on to Facebook, or if it is just a specific group of netizens that can access Facebook and browse Taiwan’s web,” Yang said.

“But naturally we hope the former is the case.”

Tsai, hit by similar attacks in the past, put a message on Facebook last November welcoming mainland users to witness the “complete democracy, freedom and pluralism” that prevail in Taiwan.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to a request for comment, but a Foreign Ministry spokesman pointed to a lack of evidence that the government directed Facebook attacks.

“If we put all of our energy into commenting on completely baseless or gossipy comments, there really is no time,” Lu Kang told a daily briefing in Beijing, reiterating the stance that Taiwan forms part of China.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949, after being defeated by Chinese Communists in a civil war. The island has been self-ruled since.

Reporting by Joseph Campbell in BEIJING; Additional reporting by Fabian Hamacher and Damon Lin in TAIPEI; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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