China's film regulator said on Wednesday it was blocking the mainland movie industry from participating in Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards, without a giving a reason, in the latest sign of rising tensions between Beijing and the self-ruled island.
The China Film News, a magazine published by the China Film Administration, made the announcement on its official WeChat account.
"China Film Administration says that it will suspend mainland movies and their personnel from participating in 2019's 55th Golden Horse Awards," it said.
The move comes after the annual event, the Chinese-speaking world’s version of the Oscars, became a lightning rod for questions about Taiwanese independence last year, sparking a debate between Taiwanese and mainland stars as well as netizens.
Ties between Beijing and Taipei have since become more tense, with China announcing last week it would stop issuing individual travel permits for Taiwan to Chinese travellers in dealing a blow to Taiwan's tourism industry.
"We certainly would feel regret if it was true," Taiwan's Golden Horse Film Festival said in a statement. Related events will be held as scheduled, it said.
Beijing has been using the international stage to assert its claim of sovereignty over Taiwan amid rising Chinese pressure, which also includes military drills. Taipei has repeatedly said the Chinese moves were aimed at manipulating its presidential elections in January.
"The incident shows that mainland China is using politics to interfere with cultural exchange," Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement. "It will lead to negative sentiment among international and cross-strait parties."
Dong Shu, a Shanghai-based film critic, said the Golden Horse awards were a good platform for exchanges on films between China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
"But some people in Taiwan had to get politically sensitive content on it, things that crossed red lines for mainland China, thus the nature of this award has been changed," Dong said.
The Golden Horse Awards were founded in 1962 and are considered one of the most prestigious awards in the Chinese-speaking film industry, with submissions mainly coming from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Chinese movie "Dying to Survive" won and was nominated in 7 award categories last year, while Chinese director Zhang Yimou won best director for his period film "Shadow".
Taiwan is self-governed and has a democratically elected leadership but China claims the island as a breakaway province and has not ruled out the use of force to ensure unification.
The question of Taiwan's formal independence is one of Beijing's most sensitive political concerns.
China's content regulator has also been taking an extra-cautious stance over its own media industry in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1, withdrawing a few blockbusters and banning"entertainment-driven" historical dramas and idol dramas.
Reports of the suspension quickly became a trending topic on China's Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service, with one related hashtag receiving more than 68 million views by Wednesday morning.
"Taiwan made this award political first, don't we have a right to punch back?" said a Weibo commentator.
Others expressed disappointment at the decision.
"Politics aside, this is a lose-lose situation. There isn't an impartial and matchable award in mainland China, what a pity!" said another commentator.© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.