K-pop agency says did not force Taiwan star to apologize over flag

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean entertainment agency behind a 16-year-old singer who triggered a fresh rift between China and Taiwan by holding a Taiwan flag said on Monday it did not force her to apologize.

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Chou Tzuyu, the only Taiwanese member of South Korean K-pop girl band Twice, inadvertently shot to the top of Taiwan’s election agenda at the weekend.

In a video released late on Friday by JYP Entertainment Corp that quickly went viral, Chou said she felt proud to be Chinese and that there was only one China, fuelling suspicion that the agency may have pressured her to apologize to avoid upsetting fans in mainland China, a key market.

The video shows Tzuyu apologizing and bowing. She had held the flag in a TV show.

“An individual’s conviction cannot or must not be forced by a company and such a thing did not happen,” JYP Entertainment, one of South Korea’s top talent management companies, said in a statement on Monday.

“After Tzuyu’s parents came to South Korea and discussed with Tzuyu, they made a final decision and went ahead with announcing her position,” JYP added.

China considers self-ruled Taiwan a breakaway province of “one China”, ruled in Beijing, ineligible for country status or its own flag.

Taiwan president-elect Tsai Ing-wen, from the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party, told reporters as she cast her vote that Chou’s video had seriously hurt the feelings of Taiwan people.

In Beijing, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said the spat was being “used” by certain political forces in Taiwan to “stir up the feelings of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait”.

A Seoul-based civic group, the Centre for Multi-Cultural Korea, said it would file a request this week with South Korea’s human rights agency to investigate whether JYP Entertainment coerced Chou.

The group said in a statement it considers the incident a “human rights infringement”.

Editing by Tony Munroe and Nick Macfie