By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
China envoys Taiwan trip highlights differences
Taiwan China Envoy 5535186
China's top negotiator with Taiwan, Chen Yunlin, center, is escorted by security to his waiting car after being forced to stay for some hours in the Regent Hotel in Taipei, Taiwan, early Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008. Chen was trapped in the hotel during a dinner meeting with ruling party leaders due to a raging protest of over a thousand pro-Taiwan supporters outside the hotel, denouncing his visit. Chen, chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), is on a five-day visit to Taiwan. - photo by Associated Press
    TAIPEI, Taiwan — He stepped off the plane with a mission: Make history by becoming the most senior Chinese official to visit Taiwan. Sign a landmark trade deal. Draw the wayward island closer to motherland China.
    Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin did all those things during his trip that ends Friday. But his five-day visit also highlighted how — socially and politically — Taiwan and China are not merely like two separate countries. They are more like different planets.
    While Chen hobnobbed with tycoons and officials on Taiwan’s banquet circuit, he was mocked by comedians, cursed by rowdy street protesters and scrutinized by the island’s aggressive media.
    The press dubbed his Elvis-style pompadour hairdo ‘‘airplane head.’’ A newspaper headline asked, ‘‘Who knows how much hair gel he uses?’’
    A popular chant by street protesters who dogged him was, ‘‘Chen Yunlin scram!’’ They unfurled a huge banner from a window at his hotel that called him a ‘‘Communist bandit.’’ He was trapped in a banquet hall past midnight Wednesday by demonstrators who surrounded the venue and blocked traffic.
    A nightly TV comedy show that features impersonations of political figures targeted him, too, with a comedian appearing as a stiff, poofy-haired Chen with two thuggish bodyguards at his side and mimicking the slow, stodgy way Chinese leaders speak.
    Parody and protests are common in Taiwan’s raucous democracy. They wouldn’t be tolerated in Chen’s communist police state back home, just 100 miles on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. The nation’s top leaders must be respected — by everyone.
    Despite the insults and mockery, Chen’s visit was remarkable because it would have been virtually impossible a year ago.
    That’s when Taiwan had a president, Chen Shui-bian, who was despised by Beijing because he favored permanent independence. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, and China says Taiwan has two choices: eventual unification or war.
    Communist leaders refused to talk to Chen during his eight years in office, and they never sat down with the previous Taiwan-based presidents, who were staunch anti-Communists who dreamed of toppling Beijing’s regime.
    But the icy relations went into a fiery wok six months ago with the election of Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan’s president. The former Taipei mayor pledged to forge closer ties with China, where Taiwanese businesses have invested billions in recent years despite the political animosities.
    However, Ma has promised not to begin unification talks during his four-year term. He understands that polls have long shown the majority of Taiwanese favor the status quo: no unification and no moves toward independence that could spark a war.
    Ma has also assured the public he won’t let Beijing bully the island into unifying.
    ‘‘Taiwan’s future will be decided by its 23 million people,’’ Ma said Thursday before meeting with Chen.
    Beijing seized on Ma’s China-friendly policy, and the agreement Chen and his Taiwanese counterpart, Chiang Pin-kung, signed Tuesday marked a big leap forward in relations. The pact drastically increased air and shipping links, while providing measures for cooperation on food safety.
    The two sides also agreed to hold high-level talks every six months, with the next round focusing on financial issues.
    Business groups have applauded the closer ties because they believe Taiwan will have greater access to one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Many of the street protesters, however, complained that Ma was getting ahead of public opinion and being too accommodating to China.
    ‘‘Ma is sucking up to China by degrading Taiwan’s sovereignty and this humiliates our country,’’ said Ko Kai-liang, 40.
    But Alexander Huang, political science professor at Taipei’s Tamkang University, said the new agreement is significant and beneficial to Taiwan.
    ‘‘The transport links will help ease political and military relations. Both sides will continue to modernize their defenses, but the chances for a military conflict will be significantly reduced,’’ he said.
    This would be good for the U.S., which has repeatedly warned Beijing it might defend Taiwan if China attacked. Washington’s close ties with Taiwan and its weapons sales to the island have long irked Beijing.
    On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang rhetorically laid down a marker for President-elect Barack Obama. Qin told reporters in Beijing that Taiwan was the ‘‘most sensitive issue’’ in China’s relations with America.
    ‘‘We hope the U.S. will properly handle this issue ... so that our relations will develop in a sound and stable way,’’ Qin said.
    Associated Press writers Annie Huang and Debby Wu in Taipei and Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter