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Protests force Chinese minister to alter Taiwan schedule
Zhang arrived at airport 3 hours early
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-06-28 02:59 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Protests forced China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun to change the itinerary for the final day Saturday of his unprecedented four-day visit to Taiwan.

Ever since arriving Wednesday, his public appearances have been marked by a variety of protests from students, social movements and the opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union.

As he went to meet his Taiwanese counterpart, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi, in Kaohsiung Friday evening, protesters managed to throw white paint balls against his minibus. Several security people in his entourage were also covered in paint. As a result, he canceled several public engagements Saturday morning, including a visit to the Chienchen fishing harbor and to Wufeng.

Before leaving Kaohsiung for Taichung, he told reporters that his mood would not be influenced by the protests and that he would continue his visit. Unexpectedly, he did not travel by high speed rail, reportedly because the weekend crowds might give rise to security concerns.

During the morning, he met with Taichung Mayor Jason Hu at a school, while outside, supporters and opponents of his visit were kept apart by police. Media reported the presence of Falun Gong believers, members of the Taiwan Referendum Association and of various Taiwan Independence groups, as well as young people in black shirts, a euphemism for gang members, on the side of the Zhang supporters.

The Chinese minister’s afternoon itinerary was also altered at short notice after bloody clashes broke out between an estimated 1,200 police and protesters outside a temple in historic Lukang, Changhua County. He reportedly sent another TAO official to give a statue of the goddess Matsu from China’s Jiangsu Province to the temple.

Media showed pictures of a young man, the son of a local Democratic Progressive Party politician, with blood covering his face and the front of his T-shirt. Several pictures showed men with their names written on their jackets hitting the protester on the head. The militants accused temple employees of attacking them and of using firecrackers to disperse the protest. Earlier, one of the activists reportedly burned a People’s Republic of China flag.

As a result of the violence, Zhang canceled his visit to the temple and reportedly arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport shortly after 3 p.m., or three hours earlier than originally planned. His 6:25 p.m. Air China flight back to Beijing was not rescheduled, but Zhang spent three hours waiting at the airport. He told reporters it would not be the last time he visited Taiwan.

An estimated 200 police officers took position near the business center where the minister was reported to be resting before his flight as more protests were expected. A local election candidate for the TSU and his supporters turned up to shout slogans in defense of the right of Taiwanese people to choose their own future. The TAO caused an uproar in Taiwan shortly before Zhang’s trip when a spokeswoman said the island’s fate should be decided by “all Chinese people.”

The Chinese minister said Saturday that he understood Taiwan was a pluralist society, and there were all kinds of voices, which was a normal thing. He added he believed that the peaceful development of cross-straits relations was the mainstream opinion and the consensus of both sides.

Wang was scheduled to deliver a report to the Legislative Yuan about his June 25 official meeting with Zhang on Monday, reports said. During the talks, both sides agreed that when the MAC and the TAO had opened representative offices in each other’s territory, officials would be allowed to pay humanitarian visits to detainees. The topic corresponded to a long-term demand from Taiwan, which has numerous business people working in China sometimes involved in disputes which lead to detention.

During their June 27 meeting, the MAC minister reportedly told Zhang that China should show some unilateral goodwill on issues of military security and international space, rather than push Taiwan toward opening negotiations on difficult political topics.

Opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen, whose DPP in the past organized massive protests against visiting Chinese officials, said the recent spate of actions were a sign of pluralism and democracy. Responding to a comment by Zhang that Chinese companies had no intention of “devouring” Taiwan’s economy, she said he was expressing goodwill, but a lot of issues still had to be closely watched before a conclusion could be reached about China’s behavior.

Some of the bloodiest protests erupted when Zhang was meeting with Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu, a prominent member of the DPP. The mayor ordered an investigation into the treatment of protesters by local police but also said that throwing paint was not the Taiwanese way of receiving visitors.

A DPP spokesman said the party’s lawmakers would question government and police officials at the Legislature about what he described as infractions against human rights and press freedoms. The police had shown an exaggerated response to the protests, while restraining journalists’ freedoms of reporting on the incidents, the opposition spokesman said.

Apart from the DPP’s Chen, Zhang met mainly with leading figures of the ruling Kuomintang during his visit, including Eric Liluan Chu, the mayor of New Taipei City who also serves as one of the party’s vice chairmen. Another vice chairman, Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin, was likely to meet with Zhang this weekend in Beijing, where he is on a visit to promote tourism to the Taiwanese capital.

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