Seoul, South Korea – In a way, promoters of South Korean pop culture ought to feel flattered.
Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, is the dominant force in Asian pop music and TV drama.
Now here it was, briefly, dominating a presidential election.
On Saturday, as Taiwan’s first woman president was being elected by a wide margin, she found herself talking to her nation about a 16-year-old pop singer.
Tsai Ing-wen said China was bullying Chou Tzuyu, a member of the K-pop band Twice.
“This is unjust and unacceptable,” she said. “A show of patriotism should never be opposed.”
In November, Tzuyu appeared on a South Korean TV show where she, along with others, had been given the flag of their home country to hold.
In her case it was the flag of the Republic of China, otherwise known as Taiwan. Hardly surprising, you might think – it was where she was born and raised.
But in the context of the divisions over Taiwan’s current status – a self-governing island, claimed by China – and its future path, it was viewed as a political act.
A pro-Beijing Taiwanese pop star, Huang An, posted images of the incident on his micro-blogging account earlier this month, labelling Tzuyu a pro-independence activist.
Soon enough Tzuyu had lost an endorsement deal with Chinese smartphone-maker, Huawei.
Her name was barred on Chinese social media.
Stable-mates at her band’s management company, JYP, were having their Chinese appearances cancelled.
JYP soon had their young star, dressed in a black jumper, standing against a grey wall, issuing a video apology. Her bows were so deep that she disappeared from the frame.
Tzuyu read a statement expressing her “deep remorse”, her pride in being Chinese, and her belief that “there is only one China”.
It didn’t take long for online commentators to start likening the clip, with its poor lighting and sound, to a hostage video.
Others, though, have been piling in on Tzuyu and her management company.
South Korean culture critic Bae Kook-nam told Monday’s Korea Times that Tzuyu’s actions had been akin to a Korean star singing the anthem of Imperial Japan – Korea’s 20th-century colonising power.
He called for Korean entertainment companies to be more aware of the politics and history of other countries.
JYP is all too aware now. Its market value was down nearly 10 percent at the height of the row on Friday.
Its founder and CEO, Park Jin-young, released a statement saying Tzuyu’s Chinese activities were being halted.
And he apologised to Chinese fans for, among other things, failing to teach his young star well enough, in the absence of her parents.
But in Taiwan, Tzuyu has plenty of defenders. More than 10,000 people are expected to march in her support in the capital, Taipei.
The divisions of recent history are felt deeply in this part of the world. And it doesn’t take much – a teenager with a tiny flag on an online video, for example – to stir them up.