Beijing's top negotiator unruffled by threats of Taiwan protests

Kicking off his first visit as cross-straits envoy, Chen Deming bats down safety concerns and says he is 'psychologically prepared' for dissent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2013, 11:06am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2013, 4:42pm

Beijing’s top negotiator with Taiwan said he was not worried about possible protests during his eight-day visit, which starts today, amid territorial tensions triggered by Beijing’s declaration of an air defence zone that overlaps the disputed Diaoyu Islands.

“I believe [my visit] will be safe and I think there will not be any big problem [that would harm] my dignity,” Chen Deming said yesterday, according to a Taiwan Central News Agency report.

He was commenting on the protests that usually hound senior mainland officials, including his predecessor Chen Yunlin, on visits to Taiwan.

“Taiwanese friends told me that under the system in Taiwan, the ways they express their opinions are very healthy,” Chen Deming said.

“I will listen to different voices; I am [psychologically] prepared,” he said.

Chen is leading a trade delegation on a tour to nine cities and counties around Taiwan, according to Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF).

It is Chen’s first visit to the island as chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (Arats), which handles business matters between Taiwan and the mainland in the absence of official contracts.

However, he had visited before, when he was mayor of Suzhou, around a decade ago.

The Taiwanese opposition yesterday called for the scrapping of Chen’s visit, in protest against the air defence zone which requires all aircraft passing through to report to mainland authorities. The potentially mineral-rich Diaoyus, which Taiwan claims as its territory and calls the Tiaoyutai, is within that zone.

“We demand the government call off the scheduled visit by Chen Deming so as to convey Taiwan’s strongest protest,” Democratic Progressive Party legislator Kao Chih-peng said yesterday.

The Taiwan Solidarity Union, a much smaller pro-independence party, pledged to mobilise supporters to shadow Chen during his eight-day trip.

Chen sidestepped questions about whether the controversial cross-strait services trade pact – which would open up some Taiwanese sectors for mainland investment if approved – would be on the agenda.

Lawmakers of the pro-independence camp, led by the Democratic Progressive Party, have strongly opposed the passage of the pact since it was signed by Taiwan and the mainland in June.

Chen will meet with his Taiwanese counterpart, Lin Join-sane, chairman of the SEF, in Taipei today. He is also scheduled to meet with local government chiefs from the ruling Kuomintang nationalist party, including Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin, New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu Chih-chiang and Taoyuan county magistrate John Wu during the trip, according to the Central News Agency.

Chen is also expected to call on Kuomintang honorary chairmen Lien Chan and Wu Poh-hsiung as well, it said.

Chen’s delegation include Arats officials, representatives from the Shanghai free-trade zone and officers from a mainland nuclear power technology company.

Their itinerary includes visits to Hsinchu city in the north, and the southern cities of Pingtung, Kaohsiung, Tainan, Chiayi. They will return to the mainland on December 3.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse