Clara Chou: The woman who stole the limelight at press conferences of historic Xi-Ma meeting

Independent journalist Clara Chou at the press conference after the historic Xi-Ma meeting in Singapore on Nov 7, 2015. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - At the press conferences held after the historic meeting between China President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore on Nov 7, one woman became the centre of attention for a few brief - and tense - moments.

The shrill voice of the journalist from Taiwan rang out across the room as she tried to catch the attention of China's Taiwan Affairs Office director Zhang Zhijun and later Mr Ma.

During Mr Zhang's press conference, she asked loudly: "Does your 'one China principle' refer to 'one China with different interpretations'?"

As Mr Zhang wrapped up the session and made his way out without responding to her grilling, she waved her hand and shouted: "Questions should be answered at a press conference. You have answered too few questions... Director Zhang, can you return to accept questions?"

When other journalists signalled to her to keep it down, she turned and said: "What are you ssshhh-ing about? Don't you know how to ask questions during a press conference?... Where is press freedom?"

At Mr Ma's conference, she was unhappy at being overlooked despite raising her hand several times, and yelled: "Allow more questions!"

She then tried to prevent other media representatives from raising questions before she was stopped by the moderator.

Her actions were criticised online, with several netizens calling her "ill-bred". However, she defended herself on Facebook, saying she was doing her duty as an independent journalist.

So who is this woman who stole the limelight during the closely watched landmark meeting between the leaders of mainland China and Taiwan which split in 1949 after a civil war?

She is Ms Clara Chou, a veteran journalist, author and talk show host in Taiwan known for her aggressive questioning and scathing views.

She received her bachelor's degree from Taiwan's National Chengchi University and her master's degree from Harvard University. She also received her Executive Master of Business Administration degree from Peking University's Guanghua School of Management.

According to Phoenix Television, the firebrand has published more than 10 books since 1994, touching on topics ranging from former Taiwanese presidents Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui to issues on men and sex.

Ms Chou was initially a member of the Kuomintang (KMT) and was a supporter of the party when it was in power before 2000. When the KMT lost the presidential election to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000, she became pro-DPP and turned critical of the KMT when she hosted several pro-DPP talk shows.

The 62-year-old was nominated by pro-independence party Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) to run in the Taipei mayoral election in 2006. She proposed impeaching then president Chen Shui-bian after her nomination, and criticised Mr Frank Hsieh, the candidate from DPP who was also running for Taipei mayor. She claimed that Mr Hsieh offered her three conditions to bow out from the race.

Ms Chou was later expelled from TSU as the party was an ally of DPP. But she did not quit the mayoral race and won only 0.26 per cent of the votes in the polls, which were won by KMT's Hau Lung-pin.

When Mr Ma from the KMT won the presidential election in 2008, she switched her stance back to pro-KMT and criticised the DPP in several pro-KMT talk shows. As a result, some have labelled her a "political chameleon".

During the Taipei mayoral election last year, Ms Chou made repeated criticisms against KMT candidate Sean Lien, leading to calls from some KMT members to expel her from the party. She also alleged that Mr Ma received a NT$200 million (S$8.7 million) political donation from Ting Hsin Group, which was in the news then over a spate of food safety scandals in Taiwan, Taipei Times reported.

She was then sued by Mr Ma over the allegation and was expelled from KMT for her frequent verbal attacks on the party. The court case is still pending.

In January this year, the newly elected Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je disclosed in an interview that he had wanted to meet up with an entrepreneur - whom he did not identify - to seek his donation before the election late last year. Mr Ko claimed the entrepreneur, however, said he had already given NT$300 million to Mr Ko's election rival Sean Lien.

Ms Chou then asked on a talk show whether Hon Hai Group chairman Terry Gou was the "Mr 300 million" and questioned whether a conflict of interest existed over the funding. In response, Mr Gou appointed a lawyer to sue Ms Chou for defamation and sought a civil compensation of NT$10 million, according to China Post.

Mr Ko testified in court that "Mr 300 million" was indeed Mr Gou, but DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming held a press conference later and said he told Mr Ko that Mr Gou had instead donated NT$300 million to the Taiwan Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo. The Taipei District Court ruled in favour of Mr Gou in August this year and ordered Ms Chou to pay damages and run apologies in newspapers.

Ms Chou was also embroiled in another controversy with former KMT presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu this year when she claimed that Ms Hung forged her master's degree. Taiwan's Ministry of Education later affirmed Ms Hung's master's degree and Ms Chou was sued by Ms Hung.

Besides politicians, Ms Chou also had run-ins with artistes, including show hosts Blackie Chen and Dee Hsu.

Ms Chou's personal life was in the headlines in 1998 when she accused her ex-lover Huang Yi-chiao, who was then information director of the Taiwan provincial government, of jilting her after forcing her to abort their baby and seeing someone else behind her back. Mr Huang was demoted over the scandal, according to Taiwanese media.

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