Pro-independence and Falun Gong activists arrived in Douliu (斗六), Yunlin County, yesterday for the fourth day of vocal protests against Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林).
Seeking to make themselves heard on the final day of Chen’s first visit to southern Taiwan, protesters held small rallies at a park across from a local university where the Chinese envoy was engaged in agricultural talks.
Local Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) politicians turned out in force, forming the bulk of protesters.
Police were more lax in the small rural agricultural city of just over 100,000 people than their colleagues keeping an eye on Chen on the first three days. No barbed wire barricades were seen, contrasting with Chen’s earlier visits to Chiayi and Greater Kaohsiung, although there were more than 100 officers at the scene.
About 60 protesters, according to press estimates, held up banners with slogans such as “We Love Taiwan” and “Learn to Respect Taiwan’s Sovereignty” held by the pro-independence camp and “Stop the Prosecution” by Falun Gong supporters.
However, the ongoing protests continued to see a muted -turnout that was similar to the rallies in Chiayi, Greater Kaohsiung and Taipei City over the past four days. Local DPP organizers had initially predicted numbers would be up to 10 times higher.
The low attendance led to grumbling from local residents participating in the protest, saying that the DPP-administered county was growing increasingly indifferent to the Chinese envoy’s visits, a source of controversy in the past. Yunlin County overwhelmingly voted pan-green in 2009.
DPP Yunlin County Councilor Tsai Chiu-min (蔡秋敏) led yesterday’s protests and said that local organizers were told by the DPP to tone down the rally and were asked to keep a more “peaceful image” ahead of coming elections.
She said that the farmer’s association which met with Chen played a significant part in shaping local politics and that discouraged some people from protesting.
Over the past few years, large agricultural purchases by China have helped Yunlin County’s economy, which, like Chiayi’s, is mainly based on agriculture. However, the few local farmers and business owners present at the rally called the Chinese envoy’s promises to buy more products from the county a “lie,” saying that they had yet to see earlier transactions materialize.
“We are still waiting for [Beijing] to finish buying the 1,800 tonnes of oranges it promised [two years ago],” DPP Yunlin County -Legislator Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) said.
Oranges are the region’s most commonly grown fruit and in 2008 Chen pledged to facilitate their sale on the Chinese market.
“I think that what it comes down to is whether China really wants to help Taiwan’s economy and employment rate, or if it is all a scheme to press for unification,” Liu said.
Police intervened on two occasions, when local councilors attempted to force themselves closer to the main gates and when a pastor drove by in a vehicle carrying anti-Chinese slogans and blaring pro-independence jingles.
No injuries were reported from the scuffles and police cars eventually escorted Chou Ming-wen (周明文), the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church pastor, off the road after police officers disconnected his speaker and removed his posters.
“Chen Yunlin has no business being in Taiwan. He’s a communist bandit. The Taiwanese people need to stand up against his visit,” Chou yelled to rousing applause from the other protesters and local lawmakers.