China's Rio Olympic gold medallists visit Taiwan

China's taekwondo gold medallist Zheng Shuyin (left) presenting a jacket to Taiwanese weightlifting gold medallist Hsu Shu-ching, in Taipei on Oct 23, 2016.
China's taekwondo gold medallist Zheng Shuyin (left) presenting a jacket to Taiwanese weightlifting gold medallist Hsu Shu-ching, in Taipei on Oct 23, 2016. PHOTO: AFP
A team of 15 Olympic gold medallists from China, including shooter Zhang Mengxue (pictured), are visiting Taiwan as part of a sports exchange programme.
A team of 15 Olympic gold medallists from China, including shooter Zhang Mengxue (pictured), are visiting Taiwan as part of a sports exchange programme. PHOTO: AFP

Taipei (AFP) - The largest delegation of Chinese Olympians ever to visit Taiwan kicked off their trip on Sunday as officials voiced hopes that sports exchanges between the two sides would continue despite worsening relations.

The group of 15 Rio Olympics gold medallists in cycling, weight-lifting, taekwondo, shooting, women's volleyball, and athletics will share their experiences with their Taiwanese counterparts and students during the five-day visit, organisers said.

The visiting Olympians include Zhang Mengxue, who won China's first gold medal at the Rio Games in women's 10m air pistol, and three players from the women's volleyball team that claimed gold after a 12-year wait.

The trip comes as relations with China have grown increasingly frosty since Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party won the presidency in January.

Sports officials hope the visit will help promote exchanges in their fields despite growing political tensions.

"Sports is sports and politics is politics... I believe the government will look forward to continuing sports exchanges between the two sides and support us," said Tsai Szu-chuen, vice president of the Chinese Taipei Olympics Committee. Li Yingchuan, a vice president of Chinese Olympic Committee, urged the two sides to continue to work together to promote sports ties and contribute to "deepening the friendship of the people".

"We hope the sports sectors in both sides will jointly treasure the fruits from our exchanges and maintain the existing good situation in sports exchanges," he told a press conference in Taipei.

China still considers the self-ruling island as part of its territory even though they split in 1949 after a civil war.

Taiwan takes part as Chinese Taipei at major events including the Olympics, instead of using its official title the "Republic of China" or its national flag.