TAIPEI • Taiwanese people shouting anti-communist slogans staged an airport protest yesterday against a visit by a top Shanghai official which they see as intended to promote China's unification with Taiwan.
Mr Sha Hailin, a standing committee member of the Communist Party in the city and head of the United Front Work Department there, is the highest-level mainlander to visit since cross-strait ties worsened under Taiwan's new government.
He arrived at Taiwan's Songshan airport for the 7th Taipei-Shanghai forum - an annual forum on municipal exchanges - as protesters shouted "Sha, go back to China!"
Dozens of demonstrators waved placards that read "Expel propaganda communist, defend Taiwan's sovereignty" and "(Taipei mayor) Ko Wen-je sells out Taiwan". Some supporters also rallied outside the airport with welcome signs.
Mr Sha, who heads the visiting delegation in place of Shanghai Mayor Yang Xiong, made no comment to reporters but waved to supporters.
Relations with China have grown increasingly frosty since Ms Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party won the presidency in January. Beijing is highly suspicious of Ms Tsai because her party is traditionally pro-independence, and has warned her against any attempt at a breakaway.
China's Taiwan Affairs Office announced it had suspended official contact with Taipei after Ms Tsai's government, which took office in May, failed to publicly accept the "one China" principle which governed relations under her predecessor.
Taiwan has been self-ruling since splitting with the mainland in 1949 after a civil war but has never formally declared independence. Beijing still sees it as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
Critics claim that Mr Sha, as Shanghai's propaganda chief, intends to push during his visit for reunification, and accuse Taipei mayor Ko of "selling out" to Beijing.
"We are very angry and we refuse China's propaganda to reunify Taiwan. Taiwan is an independent country. We must maintain our sovereignty and dignity," said protester Sherry Huang from the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) party.
"China has long wanted to annex Taiwan and we don't need to continue exchanges with it," protester Hsu Ya-chi said.
The TSU vowed to protest throughout Mr Sha's stay.