China has pressured an influential Taiwanese rock band called Mayday to make pro-China comments ahead of Taiwan’s key elections next month, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation and a Taiwan security note reviewed by Reuters.
China’s National Radio and Television Administration had asked Mayday to publicly voice support for Beijing’s claims that democratically governed Taiwan is part of China and to join China’s “media propaganda on Taiwan,” according to the internal Taiwan security note reviewed by Reuters.
The note from earlier this month cited intelligence on Chinese government activities gathered by Taiwan authorities.
Mayday are among the most successful Taiwanese artists in China, a market that has become increasingly challenging for Taiwanese celebrities as Beijing steps up its political pressure to assert its sovereignty claims.
Two Taiwan security officials looking into the matter said to pressure the rock stars, the Chinese authorities in December announced an investigation against Mayday, following allegations on Chinese social media that the band had lip-synched during one of their recent concerts in China.
Mayday’s management company, B’in Music, did not respond to requests for comment. B’in Music has previously denied allegations of lip-syncing during the band’s November tour in China, where the practice is prohibited.
China’s Publicity Department, which oversees the radio and television administration, and China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to requests for comment.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity, said Chinese authorities asked the band to provide unspecified “political service” but the rock stars did not agree to the request.
In response, the person said, authorities threatened the band with the lip-syncing probe and a fine.
“They will have to pay up if they do not cooperate,” the person said.
The investigation’s findings and any penalties for Mayday have not yet been made public.
The two Taiwan officials, citing intelligence gathered by Taiwan, said the campaign was led by China’s Publicity Department in a move to sway voters ahead of Taiwan’s January 13 presidential and legislative elections.
By doing so the Chinese authorities believe they could “sway the youth vote in Taiwan,” one of the officials said.
They described the scale of the cross-department campaign against Mayday as “unprecedented,” involving coverage on the lip-syncing allegations by the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper the People’s Daily, state broadcaster CCTV, and the official Xinhua News Agency.
The Procuratorate Daily, run by China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate, also published an article in December describing lip-syncing as an act of fraud punishable by Chinese laws and urging regulators to step up supervision.
Taiwan officials have repeatedly warned in recent months that Beijing is trying new methods to interfere in the elections and get electors to vote for pro-China candidates. Those have included trade sanctions, exchange activities with Taiwan politicians and military moves.
Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own and has increased military and political pressure to force the island to accept its sovereignty, frames the elections as a choice between “peace and war,” calling the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) dangerous separatists and urging Taiwanese to make the “right choice.”
China has in recent years ramped up pressure on Taiwanese celebrities, international groups and companies to refer to Taiwan as being part of China, to the anger of Taiwan’s government and many of its people.
One day before the presidential vote in 2016, a Taiwanese singer with a South Korean girl band publicly apologized for holding a Taiwan flag, prompting anger in Taiwan as it voted for its next president.