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Chen triggers media frenzy during visit

By Xing Zhigang (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-23 07:59
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TAICHUNG, Taiwan: The local media have given wide coverage to the cross-Straits high-level trade talks in this central city of Taiwan.

Newspapers have carried the news on their front pages, while news channels are reporting it very nearly round the clock.

Yet, the reportage seems more about what the negotiators ate rather than what they discussed.

The Tuesday edition of the mass-circulated China Times carried a large photograph of Beijing's top envoy Chen Yunlin sipping the island's famous drink, pearl milk tea, on its front page. The photo shared space alongside others depicting demonstrators protesting Chen's visit.

The prime-time news on television had a detailed report regarding the menu at Chen's first dinner in Taichung, and only briefly mentioned the agenda for the talks.

The visit by Chen, president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), has triggered media frenzy on the island, known for its fiercely competitive media.

More than 558 reporters representing 160 media organizations across the world were covering the meeting between Chen and Chiang Pin-Kung, chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), local officials said.

Dozens of satellite news vehicles were parked near the hotel where the Chen-Chiang meeting took place.

The infotainment spree, however, meant journalists were craving for anything dramatic and sensational, rather than focusing on the "boring" discussions.

That may also be the reason why some opposition politicians were trying hard to turn the event into political theater.

A number of "lawmakers" of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) hogged the media spotlight by scuffling with police deployed near Chen's hotel.

They got applause from hundreds of demonstrators on the first day of Chen's visit when they tried to climb over a barricade into the control area, but were soon stopped by the police.

Some DPP "lawmakers" also criticized Taichung's mayor Jason Hu for keeping secret Chen's itinerary - aimed at preventing a repeat of the skirmish between demonstrators and police when Chen visited Taipei last year.

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Taichung city government's reluctance to provide real-time updates about Chen's travel plans was in part due to concerns over possible clashes between police and pro-independence protesters.

The government also took other security measures, including special barricaded zones, as the protestors had vowed to hold demonstrations wherever Chen went.

For some demonstrators, the reason to protest seemed to be based on DPP's long-known stance of opposing the ruling Kuomintang's push for stronger ties with the mainland.

"We will all lose our jobs if Taiwan establishes close links" with the mainland, because of the influx of mainland laborers, one demonstrator said.

One protesting fifth-grader said her mother had urged her not to use mainland goods and food because it could be poisonous.