BEIJING (AP) — Chinese organizers canceled an invitation to a Taiwanese children's choir which performed the island's national anthem at last month's inauguration of its new president, reports said Thursday, in a move criticized in Taiwan as a petty political retaliation.
The Puzangalan Choir made up of children from the native Paiwan aboriginal tribe was to perform at a festival in southern China's Guangdong province on July 20, Taiwan's official Central News Agency said.
It quoted the choir's musical director, Wu Sheng-ying, as saying the Chinese organizers informed the choir one week after they appeared at the May 20 inauguration of the self-governing island's first female president, Tsai Ing-wen.
No reason was given, although China claims Taiwan as its own territory and regularly retaliates against artists whom it sees as backing the island's independent identity, along with other overseas artists with whom it is displeased.
No contact information for the festival organizers was immediately available.
A lawmaker from Taiwan's ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, of which Tsai is a member, called Beijing's decision "unacceptable."
"I don't understand. What mistake did those kids make?" Huang Wei-ze told journalists at Taiwan's parliament.
Tsai's predecessor as president, Ma Ying-jeou, said cultural exchanges between the sides "should not be manipulated by political interests."
A message from the choir on its Facebook page said the invitation's cancellation had been "within our expectations," but that the group's heightened profile would help it with fundraising to make up for the loss of the appearance fee.
"We'll just take that invitation and use it as wallpaper. The kids don't really get what happened it so what does it matter?" the message said.
Such actions illustrate China's hard line in its refusal to recognize Taiwanese political institutions, but also appear to clash with its attempts to win Taiwanese hearts and minds and curb growing pro-independence sentiment through youth and cultural exchanges.
In 2000, China canceled all concerts and commercial activities within China by Taiwanese singer Chang Hui-mei after she performed Taiwan's national anthem at the inauguration of Chen Shui-bian, the first president elected from Tsai's party.
The Puzangalan Choir's performance, in which they incorporated aboriginal musical elements into the national anthem, had been widely praised. The choir's name means "hope" in the aboriginal language.
"Singing the national anthem at the presidential inauguration was a great honor for us, so we decided to go ahead with it, although someone had warned us of the possible consequences," musical director Wu was quoted as saying by CNA.
They are next scheduled to appear at a choir competition in Hungary in August. CNA said Tsai has donated 500,000 Taiwanese dollars ($15,400) from her publishing royalties to help with expenses for the trip.
Tsai did not comment directly on the cancellation, but posted a message on her Facebook page urging members of the public to help with the choir's travel expenses.
"These voices are Taiwan's own, let's all contribute to allow these children the chance to sing for the whole world to hear," Tsai wrote.
Puzangalan Choir: facebook.com/PuzangalanChoir/timeline