Visitors to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport are greeted by a giant neon national flag outside the terminal and smaller flags in the welcoming hall, but a group of high school students were allegedly told last week that they couldn’t wave their own flags.
Students from Lo Tung High School were at the airport last Tuesday, led by Yilan County Commissioner Lin Tsung-hsien (林聰賢), to welcome students from Argentina who would perform at the Yilan International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival.
The students had prepared large Taiwanese and Argentine flags to wave along with a scarecrow wearing their school uniform.
These antics reportedly drew the attention of airport police. A story published by the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) yesterday quoted a student as saying that an airport police officer approached the group before the arrival of the Argentine performers. The student, Lee Meng-che (李孟哲), said the officer told them that they could not continue waving the flag, which was allegedly on a flagpole.
Lee added that the officer rebuffed his questions on whether he could hold the flag open.
“I hope that you do not do that, just let the flag drape naturally,” the student quoted the officer as saying.
Tsai Chia-chun (蔡佳純), a teacher accompanying the students, told the Liberty Times that she did not understand at the time why they were unable to wave or even open the flag. She questioned whether it was a special airport regulation that they were unaware of.
Officers from the Taoyuan Airport aviation police office have denied the student and teacher’s version of events. Chen Ju-hui (陳茹惠), the police officer allegedly at the center of the controversy, said yesterday that her instructions were aimed at the scarecrow, not the national flag.
According to a news clip broadcast by the TVBS, Chen said she asked the group to stop waving the pole with the scarecrow and denied that she saw another flagpole with the national flag.
“At the time I really did not see the flag with a flagpole. I really didn’t,” she said.
Police say that according to a review of surveillance tapes, the group was carrying the national flag without a flagpole when they entered the airport. However, police said the same tape later shows a few students leaving the scene carrying the flag after being approached by Chen. They did not clarify whether it was on a pole or not.
Footage captured from television cameras at the time contradicts yesterday’s remarks from the Aviation Police Office.
Chen can clearly be heard telling the group that they are not allowed to “hold up flags inside of the airport,” and that anything attached to a pole would have to be taken down.
None of the footage released to the public shows conclusively whether there was a flag pole or not.
According to Tsai, Yilan County Police Officers were dispatched to the school on Monday to inquire about the incident.
The incident has attracted the attention of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers, who said in the legislature yesterday that the police had gone too far.
“We can’t hold Taiwan’s flag, but we can raise the Chinese flag. Is Taiwan becoming part of China?” DPP caucus whip Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮) said.
DPP Legislator Chen Ying (陳瑩) added that it was the latest in a long line of moves by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government to downplay the national flag.
Coming to the defense of the airport police, KMT Legislator Huang Chih-hsiung (黃志雄) said at a separate setting yesterday that the airport only bans people from waving flagpoles for safety reasons, not the national flag.
Meanwhile, Executive Yuan Spokesman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said the government expressed regrets, saying media reports had “over-analyzed” the incident.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan and Flora Wang
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