The visit of China's Taiwan Affairs Office head Zhangzhijun ended ignominously as he fled the island in the face of relentless public protests. WSJ scribes:
China's top cross-strait negotiator, in Taiwan on a landmark visit, canceled three public appearances at the last minute Saturday after protests against his bridge-building trip turned violent.There were many other incidents, including protesters following Zhang everywhere he went holding signs saying there was one country on each side of the Strait. Kaoshiung Mayor Chen Chu mildly criticized the protesters, probably because Zhang had been slated to meet with her, an event that caused much speculation in the international media about China attempting to enhance relations with the DPP in case they win in 2016. The visit featured the usual ineptly staged official appearances, including a visit to Atayal country where the Atayal people were dressed up in quasi-Amis gear, and a visit to the Mazu temple in Lukang.
Zhang Zhijun, head of Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, is the first ministerial-level Chinese official to set foot on Taiwanese soil after both sides split 65 years ago. Mr. Zhang's office said his four-day trip, which started on Wednesday, is to "listen to the voice of the Taiwanese people at the grass root level" as both sides strive for further reconciliation.
In a text message to reporters on Saturday morning, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Office, responsible for coordinating the trip with its Chinese counterpart, said the changes were made in response to a spate of "conflicts" in recent days.
On Friday evening, during his visit to the southern city of Kaohsiung, members of the pro-democracy Black Island Nation Youth Front threw white paint and bundles of paper ghost money at Mr. Zhang's vehicle as he was getting out of the car. Mr. Zhang wasn't hurt but several security agents were splashed with paint.
Earlier that morning, also in Kaohsiung, a young male protester sustained a laceration to his forehead during a violent quarrel with a group of China supporters in front of the hotel where Mr. Zhang was staying. The Chinese envoy was also almost hit by a water bottle thrown by a Taiwan independence activist as he arrived at the city's high speed railway station.
The Mazu temple visit is quite interesting. The goddess Mazu has become an important symbol of annexation over the last few years (see this and this in-depth piece). The Lukang temple is the rival Mazu temple to the big Mazu temple in Dajia. In the rear of the Lukang Mazu temple is a small portrait of Shih Lang, the general who invaded and annexed Taiwan to the Qing Empire in 1683. One wonders if they wanted to incorporate that into the visit. My friend Drew tells me that even as the big Mazu temple in Dajia acts as an important nexus of religious fervor, pro-annexation politics, and cross-strait organized crime, many less important Mazu temples around Taiwan are cutting their ties to their parent temples in China (Taipei Times story on the allegations of police and gangster use of violence against protesters)(the Foreigner has some tart comments).
Taiwan Explorer was among the many who just didn't get it:
Let's ask ourselves an honest question: Does violence really offer any viable solution here? As much as I admire the passion for democracy and independence by those young activists, throwing bottles and paint at a foreign government representative will not change things in your favor. And the excessive police force and disregard for accredited journalists casts another dark shadow on the current government, that barely anyone sees as capable to lead Taiwan. In light of these two factors, I'm rather pessimistic about what Taiwan really got out of this meeting, but one thing is sure - the discourse in Taiwan has not moved beyond the usual blue-green rhetoric. While protests were expected and necessary, the violence was counterproductive. You can't talk with someone who is shouting, or throwing things at you. If one day we have a green government, and a representative is sent to China for talks, how would Taiwanese feel, if Chinese protesters physically threatened that representative?"Taiwan" wasn't supposed to get anything out of this meeting. It was political theatre staged for the audience at home in China -- Gary Rawnsley has great review of these aspects at CPI -- and to get the international media to gush Chinese propaganda about the "warming relations" and "China's softening point of view" and "first minister in 60 years!" and similar garbage. Taiwan Explorer is quite right: you can't talk to someone who is shouting at you or throwing things at you, but he misses a key point: you have to sincerely want to talk to them. And of course, Zhang did not want sincere talks. He was just there to create media spectacle (as Taiwan Explorer noted), which the international media breathlessly reported. Well, he got his spectacle...
The protests were never about talking to Zhang. They were there to subvert and destroy the media narrative that Zhang was trying to create. In that they were successful.
The visit did showcase an important aspect of Chinese soft power -- I didn't see any international media reporting the visit for the sham it was. To understand that, you had to read, well, people writing on social media, not the media. Indeed, AP's report was unmitigated shit from an alternate universe:
Dialogue between China and Taiwan opened in 2008 after Beijing set aside its military threat to sign economic agreements with Taipei and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou agreed to put off political issues to build trust and improve the island's economy....as if the DPP never negotiated with China and when did Beijing set aside its military threat!? Thanks, international media. As long as you guys write like that, we bloggers will always have readers.
Taiwan Explorer ends by asking how Taiwanese would feel if Chinese physically threatened a pro-Taiwan representative sent to China for talks. That's easy to answer. They wouldn't like it. We know that because pro-Taiwan types are rather regularly threatened when they advance pro-Taiwan views in overseas venues. We know that because, well, all of China policy toward Taiwan is essentially a violent threat to murder and maim Taiwanese in order to annex their island; that threat is indeed the only reason anyone bothered to pay attention to Zhang. Bottom line: if Zhang's nation didn't threaten to toss missiles at Taiwan, its representatives wouldn't be met with thrown bottles and paint.
UPDATE: Anon below observes...
"members of the pro-democracy Black Island Nation Youth Front threw white paint and bundles of paper ghost money at Mr. Zhang's vehicle as he was getting out of the car. Mr. Zhang wasn't hurt but several security agents were splashed with paint.
Earlier that morning, also in Kaohsiung, a young male protester sustained a laceration to his forehead during a violent quarrel with a group of China supporters in front of the hotel where Mr. Zhang was staying. The Chinese envoy was also almost hit by a water bottle thrown by a Taiwan independence activist as he arrived at the city's high speed railway station."
Did you notice how we hear clearly who threw things at the envoy, but the injuries to protesters are in passive voice? This comes up again and again in international media. Radicals and troublemakers on the pro-Taiwan and 'something happened' to protesters, no idea who did it.
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