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China-linked Flag Incident Stirs Anger on Taiwan Election Day

A supporter of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party holds up a placard of Chou Tzu-yu, who was forced to apologize after waving the Taiwanese flag

The Taiwan government and top politicians are expressing anger toward China after a teen pop star apologized on the eve of presidential elections for waving her island's flag. China does not recognize Taiwan's sovereignty, but the island is self-ruled and its political status is an issue in every election.

Sixteen-year-old Taiwanese pop singer Chou Tzu-yu apologized late Friday for holding her homeland's flag in a November broadcast. Local media and political camps believe her apology on air in South Korea was made to satisfy China. She’s part of the Korean pop band TWICE. China claims Taiwan as its own and opposes displays of nationhood.

Watch: Chou Tzu-yu's apology:

Chou's statement came hours before Taiwanese voters elected a new president partly based on each candidate's views on China. Election winner Tsai Ing-wen defended the singer on election day.

She said a lot of Taiwanese would feel hurt and angered by this event. She added that no one should come under pressure for carrying the Republic of China flag as an expression of recognition for the country or be forced to say something opposite the person’s real views.

The other major candidate also defended the singer, and Taiwan's government lodged a protest with Beijing and said the flap could hurt relations, which have improved since 2008.

The apology sparked an uproar among Taiwanese in social media.

A video clip shows the singer bowing twice in apology for showing the flag in what local media described as a November online broadcast. Taiwan media reports added that her events had been called off in China. A video recirculated online quoted Chou as saying she was proud to be Chinese.

Taiwan media said her Korean management company, JYP Entertainment, had rejected claims that the apology was made to appease Beijing, though some reports said it had expressed regret about the flag. Entertainers value China’s massive market, and in the past China has banned other celebrities who stick up for Taiwan.

Tsai, the presidential election winner, has caused some concern in China by rejecting the conditions that have allowed Beijing to talk with Taiwan’s current government since 2008. The victor said she wanted dialogue with China, but her party includes a faction that advocates legal independence for Taiwan, more than today’s self-rule.

China and Taiwan have been on their own since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, but Taiwan has never changed its constitution to break away formally.

Taiwan’s ministry in charge of China affairs protested to Beijing and called the apology a serious wound to Taiwanese people. The Chinese government replied that political forces in Taiwan were using the incident to stir up people on both sides.