New Taipei Mayor Eric Liluan Chu (left) and Zhang Zhijun (second left), minister of mainland China's Taiwan Affairs Office
Taipei, June 26 (CNA) China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) head Zhang Zhijun spent the first full day of a four-day trip to Taiwan Thursday meeting local people in New Taipei, amid sporadic protests.
Zhang began the day by holding talks with a group of veterans, Chinese spouses of Taiwanese nationals and residents in Xizhi District, before heading to an adult daycare center in Tucheng District to have lunch with senior citizens.
After a meeting with New Taipei Mayor Eric Liluan Chu, he visited a bakery in Wugu District that is famous for its pineapple cakes -- a product popular among Chinese tourists in Taiwan.
Later that evening, Zhang was expected to visit an indigenous community in Wulai District before attending a roundtable discussion with local academics specializing in cross-Taiwan Strait relations.
Zhang said the main purpose of his Taiwan visit is to personally experience grassroots life in Taiwan and get a better understanding of the man in the street's opinion on cross-strait ties.
He stressed that such an experience is very important to him, given that he is in charge of China's cross-strait affairs.
"I look forward to having more chances to exchange, learn and share experiences with local communities," he said.
Various groups of demonstrators, however, have staged protests againt China since Zhang's arrival a day earlier.
Early Thursday, over a dozen protesters gathered outside Zhang's hotel, beating iron pots and shouting "Zhang Zhijun wake up" and "come out and face it."
Meanwhile, outside a community center in Xizhi where Zhang was holding talks with local people, members of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual practice group banned by Beijing, held up banners to protest China's suppression of the group.
Zhang's visit is the first by China's top official in charge of ties with Taiwan.
The trip follows a visit to China in February by his Taiwanese counterpart Wang Yu-chi, head of the Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council.
China's official Global Times said in a Thursday editorial that Zhang's Taiwan trip carries obvious significance in terms of improving cross-strait relations.
The paper, however, said that Beijing "shouldn't place overly high expectations on the visit," noting that the protests against Zhang's visit represent "the complexity of Taiwan's political ecology."
(By Scarlett Chai, Wang Hung-kuo, Sunrise Huang and Y.F. Low)