Chinese media blasts John Oliver's Taiwan sketch, saying it 'dodged facts'

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – Chinese state media blasted television host John Oliver’s comedy segment on Taiwan, saying he “dodged facts” and misled the public about the self-ruled island that Beijing considers a breakaway province.

“As a comedian show that sometimes covers politics, it is not surprising that it didn’t take the issue seriously,” the nationalistic state-owned tabloid Global Times said in an opinion piece on Tuesday (Oct 26).

“Yet it reflected that most Westerners don’t know why the Taiwan question matters and they don’t care about it.”

The English-language news outlet is the Chinese government’s main vehicle for communicating unofficial government messages to Western audiences.

During the segment, Mr Oliver sought to untangle the complicated relationship between China and Taiwan for an American audience.

Mixing historical narratives, pop culture references and salty language, Mr Oliver concluded that the island’s fate should be left up solely to the Taiwanese people.

US-China tensions have climbed recently over Taiwan, with Beijing sending scores of aircraft into the island’s air defence identification zone in recent months.

President Joe Biden also said the US would defend Taiwan from attack, a statement that appeared to shift American policy from one of “strategic ambiguity” in the case of a Chinese invasion.

White House officials have since said US policy is unchanged.

In his recent segment, the British comedian said most Taiwanese had a “pretty relaxed” attitude toward “sabre-rattling” from across the Taiwan Strait, treating it a bit like the second season of hit TV show Emily in Paris – “Love, that is happening, but honestly I just try to carry on with my life,” he said.

Mr Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson at the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, said he did not comment on foreign television programmes when asked about Mr Oliver’s take on the Taiwanese people’s feelings on China at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

But he added that Beijing believes opposing Taiwan independence and hoping for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations is the mainstream public opinion in Taiwan.

In Taipei, Mr Oliver’s piece was more warmly received, with a senior Taiwanese government official taking to Twitter on Tuesday to playfully chide the comedian.

“I firmly support our soldiers’ dancing and demand an apology from John Oliver,” Presidential Office spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka wrote in the post, adding a grinning, squinting emoji face.

Mr Oliver had poked fun at a recruitment video for the island’s military during the almost 20-minute segment of the HBO series Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Sunday.

China blocked US film and television production company HBO’s website in 2018 after Mr Oliver aired a segment criticising President Xi Jinping for censorship.

Americans should care about Taiwan “because 23 million very human beings live there who just want to be left alone to live the way they want to”, political science professor Shelley Rigger of Davidson College – who authored Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse – said.

“They are not just something for the US and China to fight over – they are people in their own right, and we need to respect that.”

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