Taiwan opposition seeks to stop China envoy's visit

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's opposition called on Monday for the scrapping of a planned visit by a senior Chinese official, in protest at Beijing's declaration of an air force identification zone including disputed islands that Taipei also claims.

Mr Chen De-ming is scheduled to fly to Taipei on Tuesday for his first visit to the island since he was inaugurated in April as president of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, which handles exchanges with Taiwan in the absence of official contacts.

But Taiwan's China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is unhappy about the trip, which will come days after China's controversial declaration of the zone in the East China Sea.

"We demand the government call off the scheduled visit by Chen Deming so as to convey Taiwan's strongest protest," DPP legislator Kao Chih-peng told reporters.

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

Beijing on Saturday announced it would require all aircraft flying over an area of the East China Sea to follow its rules of identification.

The enlarged area covers the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by Beijing as the Diaoyu islands and by Taiwan.

The announcement of the area sparked strong objections from Japan and the United States, as well as from South Korea, which says its own air zone has been infringed.

Taiwan, which has launched a rapprochement policy with Beijing since 2008, reiterated its claim to the Diaoyus and vowed to take "appropriate measures to ensure the safety of Republic of China (Taiwan) airspace".

The government's mild reaction irked the DPP, whose members are outspoken critics of President Ma Ying-jeou's non-confrontational China policies.

"The DPP is extremely disappointed at the government's reaction, which is weak and incompetent," said Mr Joseph Wu of the DPP.

China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, even though the two sides split back in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

But relations have warmed since Mr Ma came to power in 2008 on a platform of strengthening trade and tourism links. He was re-elected in January 2012.