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Taiwan protesters attack China envoy, cast pall over talks.

TAIPEI, Oct. 21 Kyodo

Local protesters attacked Tuesday a top Chinese envoy visiting Taiwan, shoving the official to the ground, jostling him and bashing his car in a flurry of fisticuffs that marred his visit and cast a pall over upcoming talks in Taipei between China and Taiwan.

Zhang Mingqing, vice chairman of Beijing's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), was mobbed while visiting a Confucian temple in the southern city of Tainan, with a crowd of livid protesters pushing him down and smashing his car, local media said.

Local TV footage showed the envoy, his hair and clothes disheveled, struggling to get back on his feet and grasp for his eyeglasses, which had fallen off his face amid the uproar.

At one point, a protester climbed onto Zhang's car and stomped on the roof and hood, while an elderly woman swung at the vehicle with her crutch. Security officials appeared in short supply, and sometimes completely absent, as the mob encircled Zhang several times.

The envoy was not injured.

The violence came as Beijing gears up for historic talks in Taipei, with ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin slated to lead a big delegation to the island. ARATS oversees contact and negotiations with Taipei for Beijing.

Although Zhang is visiting in his capacity as a dean of Xiamen University, the private visit is widely seen as a litmus test for how Chen and his entourage would be received and protected here.

''This kind of violence comes as a blow to Taiwan's democratic society and will negatively affect cross-strait exchanges,'' warned the Straits Exchange Foundation, ARATS' counterpart in Taiwan, in a statement.

For its part, the Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top agency for policy implementation on China, vowed ample security for Chen and other Chinese officials, while the attack ignited a fresh round of partisan bickering.

The mob, according to news reports, was led by members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which takes a hard line toward China and champions the island's sovereignty. Ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers demanded DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ying-wen apologize for the incident.

Beijing, experts here say, has shied away from locking in a time frame for the negotiations, apparently jittery over plans by the DPP and other sovereignty supporters to hold rallies and steal the limelight.

The council has said the talks will take place this month or next, while Beijing merely stated they will happen before the end of this year.

But Zhang's treatment casts a pall over the much-anticipated Taipei summit, adding to a list of spats across the strait that bode ill for the politically sensitive talks.

Toxic food, including tainted milk products, imported from China has sickened a handful of people here, while Beijing has seethed over a pending sale of high-tech arms worth $6.5 billion from Washington to Taipei, recently approved by the U.S. Congress.

Taiwanese Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has demanded an apology from Beijing over the milk scandal, as the island's Cabinet scrambles to protect consumers.

Eager to clear the air with China, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou promised that no war would break out between the two sides on his watch. Ma also recently said he would like to ink a peace agreement with Beijing during his term.

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since 1949, when the two split amid civil war. Beijing has since claimed Taipei as its own, while the island insists on safeguarding its de facto independence -- a standoff that has threatened to spiral into a military showdown.

In fact, Beijing has vowed to attack the island should it formalize its sovereignty.

Since Ma took office May 20, he has emphasized warmer ties with China over sovereignty issues, kick-starting a round of talks in Beijing in June that culminated in pacts on aviation and tourism links.

The upcoming talks would be a continuation of the June negotiations, likely leading to agreements on cargo links and other economic cooperative arrangements.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Oct 27, 2008
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