Dozens of Tibetans and Taiwanese supporters of the Tibetan cause yesterday staged a demonstration at Taipei Zoo as Sichuan Province Governor Jiang Jufeng (蔣巨峰) visited the zoo in the afternoon.
Holding up Tibetan flags and signs reading “No freedom, no tourism in Sichuan” and “Release the 300 monks from Kirti Monastery,” while shouting “Free Tibet” and other slogans, the protestors demonstrated inside the zoo’s Panda Hall as Jiang visited Tuan Tuan (團團) and Yuan Yuan (圓圓), a pair of pandas transferred from Sichuan to Taiwan in 2008.
“We are here to ask him [Jiang] to release 300 monks arrested from the Kirti Monastery and to allow a Tibetan Youth Congress delegation to visit the prisoners there,” said Tenzin Chompel, president of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, Taiwan. “Part of Jiang’s mission here is to promote tourism in Sichuan, but without freedom, there’s no tourism.”
Conflict broke out late last month when Tibetan residents and monks in the predominantly Tibetan region of Ngaba, Sichuan Province, faced a violent crackdown in response to peacefully demonstrating in March to commemorate the Tibetan uprisings against Chinese rule in 1959 and 2008.
As a result, hundreds of monks from the Kirti Monastery who participated in the demonstration were arrested and the monastery was locked down, while all foreign visitors have been banned from entering Ngaba.
Kelsang Lhundup, another participant at yesterday’s protest, said that as the top leader in Sichuan Province, Jiang should be held responsible for what has happened to Tibetans there and should solve the matter peacefully before he visits other countries.
While the demonstration was intended to be a surprise targeting Jiang, the demonstrators unveiled their signs, flags and started shouting slogans before Jiang’s arrival, after mistaking buses carrying Chinese journalists with Jiang’s convoy.
A second wave of protests broke out when Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) showed up at the entrance gate to the Panda Hall in preparation to greet Jiang.
The protests forced organizers of the visit to change their plans. Instead of entering the Panda Hall from the front door as planned, Jiang entered through the cargo entrance at the back, took a look at Yuan Yuan in a nursing area that is not open to the public, and went up to the briefing room on the third floor via the emergency stairs. He left directly from there.
Reacting to the change in plans, demonstrators moved to the only vehicle exit at the zoo and protested as Jiang’s convoy departed.
Jiang and a delegation of about 50 arrived on Saturday at Kaohsiung International Airport for a seven-day visit.
Although girls from a panda fan club greeted the delegation, Greater Kaohsiung officials were absent. Jiang was nevertheless given VIP treatment, with a large contingent of security personnel from Sichuan maintaining his safety. No additional security measures were taken.
To greet him and the delegation in Taipei, Hau added the visit to the zoo to Jiang’s public schedule.
Jiang lauded the zoo and the Taipei City Government for taking good care of the pandas and promised that experts from his province would continue working with the zoo to help impregnate Yuan Yuan.
Panda experts from the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve Centre in Sichuan visited Taipei in February to implement an artificial insemination program for Yuan Yuan, who the zoo said has recently shown signs of pregnancy.
Panda experts from the center returned to the zoo earlier this month upon receiving the news. Zoo director Jason Yeh (葉傑生) said Yuan Yuan has lost her appetite this month and has been sleeping more than usual, while also behaving “like a cat on hot bricks.”
While those were signs of pregnancy, Yeh said the zoo has been unable to confirm that the panda is expecting a cub because an ultrasound did not detect a fetus.
Additional reporting by CNA