Taiwan baker Wu Pao Chun who is at centre of cross-strait storm just wants to ‘make friends through bread’

  • Shanghai shop opening marred by mainland anger at previous remarks
  • Attempts to calm the situation spark fury on the self-ruled island
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 8:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 10:46pm

An internationally acclaimed baker from Taiwan has found himself at the centre of a cross-strait row as the opening of his first shop on the mainland sparked accusations that he was an advocate for independence for the self-ruled island.

Wu Pao Chun, who was awarded the title of Master Baker in the bread category of the 2010 Masters of Boulangerie competition in Paris, had previously expressed indifference about the mainland market, in remarks which re-emerged with the establishment of his new shop in Shanghai, due to open officially next Tuesday.

The mainland bakery, which has been on a trial run since Friday, has met with negative reviews and online calls for a boycott, but Wu’s efforts to defuse the situation have led to complaints in Taiwan.

Wu, who owns four shops in Taiwan, took to Facebook and Weibo – China’s Twitter-like social media service – on Monday to say that he was from “Chinese Taiwan” and supported the 1992 Consensus, the understanding reached between representatives of Beijing and Taipei in 1992 that Taiwan and the mainland belong to a single sovereign nation.

Today he fronted the media in Taiwan to try and cool pro-independency advocates there who were upset by his statement.

“I am a baker and I just want to make friends through bread,” Wu told the Taiwanese United Daily News.

The new mainland-friendly mayor of Kaohsiung Han Kuo-yu, whose Chinese Nationalist Party swept to victory in Taiwan’s recent local elections, showed up to give his support to the beleaguered baker.

“He is a pure businessman and does not wish to be involved in politics too much … he’s been under too much pressure and hopes all Taiwanese people can support him,” Han said.

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Wu’s troubles started two years ago, when he was quoted by the Taiwan People News as saying: “although the Chinese market has 1.3 billion people, there are over 7 billion people around the world. I won’t set my sight on China only.”

His remarks won applause at the time from pro-independence advocates in Taiwan and triggered an outcry on the mainland.

In March, he came under fire again when Singaporean bakery BreadTalk announced it would partner with Wu to open bakeries under his name in several major Chinese cities, as well as in Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Shanghai shop, the first to open under the partnership, has been removed from Dianping, China’s biggest online restaurant review platform, after being flooded with malicious reviews and ironic images.

One post, which called Wu “the light of Taiwan who vowed not to come to the mainland even if he’s starving”, has been widely circulated in the past few days on China’s most used social media platform WeChat.

“I never said such a remark as ‘never come to the mainland even if I’m starving’. I support the 1992 Consensus and wish to contribute to the economic and commercial exchanges across the strait,” Wu said in his statement on Monday.

“My team and I have been looking forward to opening new stores on the mainland. But because many things were not ready, we wished to meet you when we were fully prepared. We finally come here with sincerity after several years of preparation,” he said.

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While the statement helped him win back some support on the mainland, it sparked an uproar among the Taiwanese public, with many saying they were ashamed and would no longer buy his bread.

“In order to earn the Chinese yuan, you desert the new Taiwanese dollar, forget your original intention, and lick the communist party’s boots. That’s really making people shiver,” one user commented on Facebook.

Some mainland customers avoided the political furore and confined their remarks to the prices, with many saying they were too high.

Lychee Rose Royale and Red Wine Longan, the bakery’s two award-winning products, are priced at 95 yuan (US$13.70) each in the Shanghai store, which is slightly higher than the price in Taiwan.

“I’ve never bought such expensive bread. This is too high. Although it’s big, my family won’t be able to eat so much bread at a time,” said a customer named Wu Lili.

She bought a few other items, priced between 10 yuan and 20 yuan, which she called reasonable.

Despite the stir online, the store has received a steady number of customers over the past days, according to a staff member who declined to be named.