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China envoy leaves after landmark Taiwan trip

A Chinese official left Taiwan after a turbulent visit that produced landmark trade agreements but also sparked angry protests that show the scars a half-century of enmity have inflicted.

world Updated: Nov 07, 2008 08:31 IST
Ralph Jennings

A Chinese official left Taiwan on Friday after a turbulent visit that produced landmark trade agreements but also sparked angry protests that show the scars a half-century of enmity have inflicted.

Chen Yunlin, China's top negotiator on Taiwan affairs, departed for Beijing shortly before 10:30 am local time, completing the highest-level visit to the island by a Communist leader since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

His visit, which included top-level meetings, public appearances and cultural events, accelerated a thaw in official relations between two sides that were once on the brink of war.

And while tauntings from anti-China protesters dogged him almost every step of the way, it shouldn't divert the future course of cross-strait ties, Chen indicated in departing remarks.

"We believe the road ahead is still very long," Chen said at his hotel before leaving for the airport. "We expect to find this and that difficulty, but we will overcome those to fulfil expectations of compatriots of both sides.

"We will continue to take actions that will be beneficial to compatriots on both sides of the Strait."

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

Turning point?

But China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has pushed for landmark trade and transit ties since he took office in May.

Ma is under pressure at home to be politically tough on China while improving the island's sagging economy by getting a piece of the other side's booming markets.

Chen's visit could mark a turning point in relations between Taiwan and China, just 150 kms (100 miles) across the Taiwan Strait.

Relations froze under former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, over his pro-independence views. Senior Beijing leaders never talked to him formally during his eight-years in office.

But during the visit this week, the two sides signed a slew of agreements, including a major expansion in air and shipping links, direct postal services and food safety cooperation.

Demonstrations that began hours after Chen's arrival on Monday exploded early on Thursday as a thousand protesters opposed to closer Taiwan-China ties squared off against riot police to stop the negotiator from leaving a banquet.

Later in the day, tens of thousands of people filled the streets near the presidential office, calling for Ma's resignation and crudely demanding that Chen return home. Some threw eggs and tried to break through police barriers.

And through much of the night, hundreds of riot police used batons and a water cannon to fend off groups of protesters who threw rocks, bottles and trash outside Chen's hotel. Some also wrecked barriers to seek entry to the hillside venue.

Dozens were injured in the scuffles this week, local TV said. Taiwan's main opposition party, which organised some of the events, said it was not responsible for the violence.

At the departure ceremony at the hotel on Friday, Chen bowed and thanked Taiwan police for helping him during the protests.

"At the point where resistance was the strongest, there is no way I can express what I feel towards the police and their family," Chen said.