TAIPEI, Taiwan: (IHT) Falun Gong followers said Wednesday they will keep promoting their movement at Taiwanese sites popular with tourists from China, where the sect is banned, despite official requests for them to leave.
Large numbers of Chinese tourists are expected to start arriving in Taiwan in July after the two longtime rivals signed a June 13 agreement allowing direct weekend charter flights between them. Taiwan hopes the pact will help boost its laggard economy.
China banned the Falun Gong as an "evil cult" in 1999 and continues to imprison and harshly punish its followers. Taiwan has no such restrictions on the movement, which teaches the development of health and morality through meditation and exercise.
But authorities in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan, a popular tourist attraction known for its 17th century Dutch colonial structures, have been urging Falun Gong followers to leave the sites.
Yu Chi-chi of Tainan's Cultural Affairs Bureau said Falun Gong practitioners have set up tables and hoisted banners outside several tourist spots in the area, and the city government is worried this will affect the "appearances" of the sites.
"If the sect refuses to leave, the matter then will be left to the discretion of the police force," Yu said. He did not elaborate on what police may do.
Taiwan Falun Dafa Society Chairman Chang Ching-hsi said followers will not agree to leave the Tainan tourist sites.
Chang said small groups of practitioners — usually less than 10 at a time — have been distributing information for the past three or four years near sites that are popular with Chinese tourists.
"Freedom of speech is a basic human right," Chang said. "We will not leave."
Despite Tainan's stance, city officials seem to have mixed feelings about the arrival of much larger numbers of Chinese tourists.
Tainan City Health Bureau Director Hu Shu-chen told city councilors Monday that her bureau will coordinate efforts to "sterilize every place Chinese tourists will have visited" after they start to arrive in large numbers.
Her statement came after a city councilor expressed worries that Chinese visitors could bring infectious diseases to the island.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. Communist Beijing still claims the self-governing island and has threatened war if it tries to make its de facto independence official.
Ties have warmed, however, since the May 20 inauguration of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who promised to improve long-strained ties and bolster economic exchanges with China.