On August 1, Taiwanese singer and TV host Dee Hsu (徐熙娣) – also known as “Little S” – drew the ire of Chinese netizens after she referred to Taiwan’s Olympic athletes as “national competitors”.

The entertainer wrote on Instagram that she would like to invite to dinner the “national competitors” (國手) of Taiwan. She made the comment during the women’s badminton final between Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying (戴資穎) and China’s Chen Yufei (陈雨菲), which Chen won.

However, her words angered Chinese netizens, who viewed them as an endorsement of Taiwan’s independence. Chinese cyber-nationalists (小粉紅) often harass celebrities and companies for expressing views that contradict the Chinese Communist Party’s official narrative.

The Chinese government claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to use force if all “peaceful” options are exhausted. Beijing routinely goes after individuals and organizations accused of supporting or recognizing Taiwan’s statehood.

In April, US actor John Cena apologized for calling Taiwan a country during an interview.

Chinese cyber-nationalists trolled and harassed Dee Hsu because of her statement, calling her a “Taiwan independence supporter” and “two-faced”. Challenging the official line of the Chinese government does not only result in backlash from internet users, but it usually comes with financial repercussions.

Several companies, including Unilever and Osuga, announced that they would not renew their sponsorship deals with Hsu. Tea-maker Oriental House said it cancelled its contract with the Taiwanese celebrity. “The nation’s interests are more important than anything else,” the company wrote on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo. “Resolutely support the one China principle.”

Hsu has since deleted her Instagram comment.

On August 5, she took to Weibo and explained that she is not a supporter of Taiwan’s independence.

“I am not pro-Taiwan independence! During the pandemic, please take care of yourselves and your family, stay safe,” her brief statement read.

Chinese government media outlet Voice of the Strait (VOS, 海峡之声), which is owned by the People’s Liberation Army, took Hsu’s side in the controversy. The paper published an article arguing that netizens should not randomly label people Taiwan independence supporters, and that this kind of behaviour only helps Taiwan independence and harms “unification” .

VOS defended Hsu for not knowing how to use the nationalistic language typical of China, arguing that she grew up in Taiwan and her way of expressing her ideas is different:

“Mainland netizens need to ask themselves whether their ardent love for the [Chinese Communist] Party, the motherland and socialism (热爱党、热爱祖国、热爱社会主义) is inborn, or whether it’s the result of their family upbringing, school education and social environment. If one understands this, then it is not hard to comprehend that the Taiwanese people have lived in a different society from that of the mainland for several decades, even for more than a century, so how can one expect their every thought, every word and action, even their common terminology, to be exactly the same as yours? Isn’t it normal for Little S to call [Tai Tzu-ying] and others ‘national competitors’ in Taiwan’s context? This has nothing to do with Taiwan independence!”

VOS then claimed that those who support Taiwan’s independence are “a small minority” (极少数人), and it accused Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of “immoral behaviour” (不道德) for “seizing every opportunity to exacerbate hostility between the two sides of the Strait.”

Dee Hsu was a supporter of Taiwan’s former President Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang).

Ma’s pro-China policies and rapprochement with Beijing became increasingly unpopular, leading to the DPP’s landslide victories in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

Dee Hsu started her career in Taiwan as a singer in the 1990s and later became a successful talk show host. In recent years she has focused on building her brand on the lucrative Chinese market.

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