Chinese officials arrive in Taiwan for first post-pandemic visit

Li Xiaodong (centre), an official from China's Taiwan Affairs Office in Shanghai, arrives at the Songshan Airport in Taipei on February 18. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI - A group of Chinese officials arrived in Taiwan on Saturday on the first visit in three years, since the Covid-19 pandemic began, to attend a cultural event at a time of soaring military tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan’s government this week allowed the trip of six officials, lead by Mr Li Xiaodong, deputy head of the Shanghai office of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, to attend the Lantern Festival in Taipei, at the invitation of the city government.

Mr Li, arriving at Taipei’s downtown Songshan Airport, did not answer questions from reporters and his group was ushered into a van under heavy security and driven away.

Around a dozen pro-Taiwan independence supporters protested his arrival outside the airport, shouting “Taiwan and China, separate countries” and “Chinese people, get out”, while on the airport road another small group of pro-China supporters shouted their welcome.

Mr Chilly Chen, head of the pro-independence Taiwan Republic Office, said the Taiwanese people were very hospitable and welcomed visitors but were concerned the Chinese visitors were coming to push Chinese policies on the island.

“Everything China does is in the service of politics, and their aim is definitely united front,” said Mr Chen, referring to the name of China’s policy to co-opt non-Communists and Taiwan’s people in particular.

Taiwan’s China-policymaking Mainland Affairs Council said the group has been allowed to come as long as they keep a low profile.

The council hoped the visit would promote mutual understanding and “healthy and orderly exchanges” going forward.

Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an, from the main opposition party the Kuomintang which traditionally favours close relations with China, told reporters they “very much welcomed” the delegation.

Arrangements for the group will follow the principles of “low-key, simple, and secure” as set out by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, Mr Chiang told reporters.

While China has refused to speak to Taiwan’s government since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, believing she is a separatist, city-to-city exchanges had continued until interrupted by the pandemic.

Still, Dr Tsai’s administration has cautiously been trying to reopen less sensitive people-to-people links since it lifted pandemic-related border controls late last year, aiming to engender goodwill with China.

But military activities near Taiwan continue.

These include almost daily crossings by Chinese air force jets of the Taiwan Strait’s median line, which had previously served as an unofficial barrier. REUTERS

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