Mayor under fire from both sides of political divide over Uygur film

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2009, 12:00am

The mayor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city, has found herself in the firing line over the controversial screening of a documentary about Uygur activist Rebiya Kadeer.

While the ruling Kuomintang accused Chen Chu yesterday of inflaming cross-strait tensions, the pro-independence camp criticised her for kowtowing to Beijing by pulling the film from the October 16-29 film festival, and showing it today and tomorrow instead.

In what appeared to be a compromise, Chen - facing strong protest from the mainland and heavy pressure from local tourism operators - decided to show the controversial documentary for just the two days. There would be four screenings - one for the media and three for the public - free of charge, with a maximum of 115 viewers each time.

But that arrangement is unacceptable to Kaohsiung tourism operators, who complained that mainland tourists were cancelling their travel plans to the island. In a joint statement yesterday, they demanded that the city not screen the film.

'It is not a matter of dignity but a matter concerning the livings of numerous people who depend on the tourism business,' Tseng Fu-teh, chairman of the Kaohsiung Tourism Association, said.

He said that with the mainland's 'golden week' National Day holiday starting on October 1, operators in Kaohsiung - including more than 200 hotels, 300 travel agencies, tour bus companies, restaurants and commercial centres - needed the business from tourists.

Operators in Kaohsiung have recently reported the cancellation of thousands of hotel rooms and other reservations by mainland travel agencies due mainly to the decision to screen the film, titled The 10 Conditions of Love.

The Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, though yet to mention Chen, had twice protested against the city's decision to show the documentary at the film festival.

Beijing has reportedly sought to engage bigwigs of the Democratic Progressive Party, including Chen and former Vice-President Annette Lu Hsiu-lien, to pave the way for more interactions with the DPP.

Chen emphasised yesterday that the three public screenings must go ahead as scheduled. 'It would hurt the image of the city in upholding freedom and human rights if it stopped screening the film because of the protest from China,' she said in a city council meeting.

Kuomintang city councillors said Chen was 'playing with fire' by showing the documentary following her invitation to the Dalai Lama to visit. 'Don't you know that you are stoking cross-strait tension and hurting the local tourism business?' councillor Mei Fu-hsing asked, referring to Beijing's wrath over what it sees as the pro-independence camp in Kaohsiung promoting Tibetan and Uygur independence.

But her decision to retract the documentary from the film festival and show it on the sidelines also prompted an uproar from the hardline pro-independence camp.

Guts United, Taiwan, said: 'She not only betrays the trust of Taiwanese people who support her, but also betrays the freedom and human rights values she has long advocated.' It said it would invite Kadeer to visit.

DPP lawmaker Huang Wei-che said people in Taiwan had the right to choose what movies they want to watch and show, and Chen 'must clearly explain why she made such a decision'. Ex-DPP lawmaker Lo Wen-chia, a former aide of convicted ex-president Chen Shui-bian, said he would strive to arrange for the documentary to be shown for five days in Taipei from the start of the mainland's National Day.