Taiwan protesters throw flowers at China envoy

AFP , Thursday 24 Feb 2011

Protesters in south Taiwan throw eggs and flowers at Chinese negotiator Chen Yunlin as he arrives for a business forum in Koahsiung

Chen Yunlin, right, China's top negotiator with Taiwan, shakes hands with his Taiwanese counterpart Chiang Pin-kung, Wednesday, (AP).

A senior Chinese official on Thursday travelled to south Taiwan, a hotbed of anti-Beijing sentiment, as protesters threw eggs and flowers in a reference to Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution".

Close to 200 demonstrators were waiting for Chen Yunlin, China's top negotiator for Taiwan, as he arrived for a business forum at the port of Kaohsiung, the island's second-largest city.

"Support Taiwan independence," the protesters chanted, as some of them threw eggs and chrysanthemums in the direction of Chen's motorcade. They said they would have liked to throw jasmine, but it is not the season.

None of the projectiles hit the passing vehicles, and the demonstrators were kept at a distance by a large police presence.

Chen's trip, which began Wednesday, is his fourth to Taiwan, but it is the first time he has visited the south of the island, where anti-Chinese feelings are stronger than anywhere else in the society of 23 million.

Chen, who heads a semi-official body in charge of Taiwan ties, has brought a delegation of representatives from about 20 state-owned companies, saying that he wishes to put business at the top of the agenda during his six-day trip.

"I'm here to seek our joint development," Chen told businesspeople at the start of the forum. "I thank you for the warm welcome."

Observers see his trip to the south as an attempt to win over lukewarm portions of the public with the promise of prosperity financed by China's new-found wealth. But locals fear the political implications.

"It's good that Chinese companies come to Kaohsiung to invest, but I worry that China is using economic means to back its real intention of unification," transportation worker Lu Kuo-hua told AFP.

Earlier when Chen stepped off a high-speed train at Kaohsiung railway station, he encountered two groups of protesters, one in favour of unification with China, the other against. Both numbered about 50 people, police said.

The Chinese envoy left the station behind a human chain of plain clothes police officers as anti-China demonstrators chanted slogans and held up the green flag symbolising the opposition.

Taiwan and China have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949 but Beijing still considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to get it back, even if it must go to war.

Ties have improved considerably since 2008 when Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party was elected president of the island on a promise to boost economic ties.

However, tension remains in the political area, highlighted in for example China's growing deployment of missiles in parts of the mainland close to Taiwan.

"Withdrawing the missiles is much better than placing orders with local businesses," said opposition politician Lee Ying-yuan at a press conference near Yunlin, a town in southern Taiwan.

Taiwanese experts estimate that the Chinese military has more than 1,600 missiles aimed at the island.

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