Hundreds protest in Taiwan over summit with 'enemy' China
TAIPEI, Taiwan – Hundreds of angry protesters massed outside Taiwan President Ma Ying-Jeou's office Saturday, November 7, condemning his warm exchange with China's leader in a summit that has fuelled fears the democratic island will be swallowed up by its giant rival.
The talks have been hailed as a historic opportunity to end decades of hostility between the two sides which split after a civil war, but there has been a backlash among Taiwanese suspicious over Ma's rapprochement policy.
Angry demonstrators tried to storm parliament overnight and 27 were arrested at the airport Saturday as Ma headed to a summit his opponents say is a sell-out to Beijing which is bent on expanding its influence.
Later, up to 500 protesters, representing an array of groups including farmers, rights activists and environmentalists, raged over the cordial get-together at a Singapore hotel where Ma told China's leader Xi Jinping that they already "feel like old friends."
"How can he... without any negotiation go to meet with the leader of our enemy? I believe this is getting to the level of treason," said Lin Hsiu-hsin, vice chairman of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Protest leaders were infuriated by Xi's comments that the two sides are "a family" that can never be divided – a reference to the mainland's unchanging position that Taiwan is a breakaway province awaiting reunification.
"Xi Jinping said we belong to one China. Can you accept it?" Lee Ken-cheng from the Beijing-sceptic environmentalist Green Party bellowed to the crowd.
"No!" they roared back.
Suspicion over motives
Ties with China have blossomed under Ma, a lame-duck leader as presidential elections loom in January, but the economy remains in the doldrums and critics say a raft of trade deals has benefited only big business, not ordinary Taiwanese.
There are deep suspicions over the reasons for the summit, declared less than a week ago, and fears a meddling China is trying to secure another victory for Ma's Kuomintang party which is lagging badly in the polls.
"We are worried they may sign some secret agreement. This president with only nine percent popular support doesn't represent us. We are afraid of being part of China," said Peggy Wu, a 28-year-old researcher.
In an island with a strong sense of its own identity, Wu was among those furious over the summit protocol. The two leaders were to address each other as "mister" instead of "president" in a nod to the fact that neither formally recognizes the other. (READ: Q&A on landmark China-Taiwan summit)
"China doesn't see us as an independent nation. Their positions are unequal. We should be addressed as president, not mister," she said, holding a handmade sign declaring "Go to hell, 'One-China' policy."
In Singapore, there were also reports that 3 members of the anti-China Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) were escorted by police from a hostel.
A TSU spokesman in Taipei said legislative candidate Hsiao Ya-tan was "taken away by police" along with two of her assistants.
Police in Singapore – a city-state where public protests are banned –- said they were interviewing 5 Taiwanese nationals amid a security clampdown at the summit venue but did not say if they were the same group.
At Taipei's Songshan airport where Ma gave a brief address to reporters before boarding his flight Saturday, protesters tried to burn images of the two leaders with slogans calling Xi "Chinese dictator" and Ma a "traitor."
The 27 were arrested after they attempted to push their way through a guarded side gate.
They included student leader Chen Wei-ting, a key figure in last year's Sunflower Movement which occupied parliament for almost a month over a controversial trade pact with China.
Television footage showed Chen dragged into a police van while officers with riot shields scuffled with protesters. – Michelle Yun, AFP/Rappler.com