In an interview with a Taiwanese TV channel to promote the latest installment in the "Fast & Furious" movie franchise, WWE star and actor John Cena said Taiwan would be “the first country” to see the film.
This drew major criticism from mainland China, which claims the island. That criticism prompted Cena to apologize in a video posted to China’s Weibo social network.
Speaking in Mandarin, Cena did not specify what he was apologizing for, but assured his audience he had made a “mistake.”
Then, on May 25, the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times published an article headlined: “Fast & Furious 9 star John Cena apologizes on Weibo after calling Taiwan island a ‘country’.”
The article stated: “US actor and WWE star John Cena on Tuesday apologized on Chinese social media after having falsely indicated that the island of Taiwan is a country in a promotional video for his latest film Fast & Furious 9 to the island's audience.”
The Global Times used Cena’s own words, calling the gaffe a “mistake,” but added that some Chinese internet users believed he was “guided by misinformation.”
The Global Times piece omits context and is misleading.
Taiwan’s government and military are separate from those of the People’s Republic of China, and the island considers itself an independent country. However, its diplomatic situation is complicated, with few countries officially recognizing it.
The dispute goes back to the Chinese Civil War, which broke out shortly after the end of the Second World War. In 1949, Mao Zedong’s Communist forces managed to rout the forces of Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek. Chiang and what was left of his Kuomindang government fled the mainland for the island of Taiwan.
From there, remnants of the nationalist government declared themselves the Republic of China. Until 1971, much of the world, including the United States, considered Taiwan the rightful government of China. The People’s Republic of China, however, insisted, and still insists, that Taiwan is a breakaway province of China.
The policy of initially recognizing the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as China’s official government is known as the “One China Policy.” Mainland China has its own concept, known as the “One China Principle,” which claims sovereignty over Taiwan and insists that any country wishing to have diplomatic relations with the PRC must not officially recognize Taiwan.
In 1979, the United States cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and officially recognized the People’s Republic of China as the sole government of China. The U.S. still maintains a broad variety of official relations with the island.
However, the same year the U.S. recognized Beijing as China’s sole government, then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter signed the Taiwan Relations Act, which facilitated unofficial U.S.-Taiwan cooperation. The act established the American Institute in Taiwan, a non-profit organization that handles visas and passport applications the way a consulate would.
Although the Taiwan Relations Act does not obligate the U.S. to defend the island in the case of an invasion by the mainland, it includes provisions allowing the sales of arms to Taiwan’s military forces.
Only 14 countries officially recognize Taiwan. Despite this, Taipei has unofficial relations with much of the world, plus a separate government, economic system and military, which make it appear like a state that is independent from mainland China.