By Pei Li and Yimou Lee
BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s film regulator on Wednesday said it was blocking the mainland movie industry from participating in Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards without a giving a reason, in the latest sign of rising tensions between Beijing and the self-ruled island.
The China Film News, a magazine published by the China Film Administration, made the announcement on its official WeChat account.
“China Film Administration says that it will suspend mainland movies and their personnel from participating in 2019’ 56th Golden Horse Awards,” said the post.
The move comes after the annual event, the Chinese-speaking world’s version of the Oscars, last year became a lightning rod for questions about Taiwanese independence, sparking a debate between Taiwanese and mainland stars as well as netizens.
The state of ties between Beijing and the self-ruled island has since become more tense, with China announcing that it would stop issuing individual travel permits for Taiwan to Chinese travellers last week, dealing a blow to the island’s tourism industry.
“We certainly would feel regret if it was true,” Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival said in a statement, adding that related events will be held as scheduled.
Beijing has been using the international stage to assert its sovereignty over the island amid rising Chinese pressure, which also includes military drills. Taipei repeatedly said the Chinese moves were aiming to manipulate the island’s presidential elections in January.
“From an industry point of view, the Golden Horse was a good platform for exchanges on films among mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong,” said Dong Shu, a Shanghai-based film critic.
“But some people in Taiwan had to get politically sensitive content on it, things that crossed red lines for mainland China, thus the nature of this award has been changed.”
The Golden Horse Awards was founded in 1962 and is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the Chinese-speaking film industry, with submissions mainly coming from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Last year, Chinese movie “Dying to Survive” won and was nominated in 7 award categories, while Chinese director Zhang Yimou won best director for his period film “Shadow”.
Taiwan is self-governed and has a democratically elected leadership, but China claims the island as a breakaway province and has not ruled out the use of force to ensure unification. The question of Taiwan’s formal independence is one of Beijing’s most sensitive political concerns.
China’s content regulator has also been taking an extra-cautious stance over its media industry in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, on Oct. 1, pulling off a few blockbusters and banning “entertainment-driven” historical dramas and idol dramas.
Reports of the suspension soon became a trending topic on China’s Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service, with one related hashtag receiving more than 68 million views Wednesday morning.
“Taiwan made this award political first, don’t we have a right to punch back?” said a Weibo commentator.
Others expressed disappointment at the decision.
“Politics aside, this is a lose-lose situation. There isn’t an impartial and matchable award in mainland China, what a pity!” said another commentator.
(This story corrects paragraph three figure to 56th, instead of 55th.)
(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Pei Li in Beijing and Yimou Lee in Taipei; Editing by Michael Perry)