Chinese officials arrive in Taiwan for the first post-pandemic visit
TAIPEI (Reuters) – A group of Chinese officials arrived in Taiwan on Saturday for the first visit in three years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to take part in a cultural event at a time of rising military tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
The Taiwanese government this week allowed six officials, led by Liu Xiaodong, deputy head of the Shanghai Bureau of China’s Taiwan Affairs Bureau, to travel to the Lantern Festival in Taipei at the invitation of the municipal government.
Liu, who arrived at Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei, did not answer reporters’ questions. His group was led into a van under heavy guard and driven away.
Around a dozen pro-Taiwan pro-independence supporters protested his arrival in front of the airport, shouting “Taiwan and China, separate countries” and “Chinese people, get out,” while another small group of pro-China supporters shouted their greetings on the airport street .
Chilly Chen, head of the Republic of Taiwan Independence Bureau, told Reuters that the Taiwanese are very hospitable and welcome visitors, but are concerned they are coming to advance Chinese politics on the democratic island.
“Everything China does is in the service of politics, and their goal is definitely a united front,” Chen added, referring to the name of China’s policy of co-opting non-communists and especially Taiwan’s people.
Taiwan’s China Policy Council said the group is welcome as long as they exercise restraint, hoping their visit would promote mutual understanding and “healthy and orderly exchanges.”
Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an, from the main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which traditionally promotes close ties with China, told reporters they “very welcome” the delegation.
Arrangements for the group will follow the principles of “low-key, simple and safe” as set out by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, Chiang told reporters.
While China has refused to speak to Taiwan’s government since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, believing it to be a separatist, city-to-city exchanges continued until interrupted by the pandemic.
Still, since the lifting of pandemic-related border controls late last year, the Tsai government has tentatively tried to resume less sensitive connections between people to inspire goodwill towards China.
China continues to conduct military activities near Taiwan, including the almost daily crossing of the Taiwan Strait center line by Chinese Air Force jets, which had previously served as an unofficial barrier.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and William Mallard)