Only three months have passed since protesters occupied Taiwan's legislature after lawmakers pushed through a secretly negotiated trade deal with China in what was dubbed the Sunflower Movement.
The occupation came to an end after legislation was promised to monitor future agreements, but Taiwanese remain suspicious of the country's warming relationship with China, which considers the democratic island a territory and not independent.
So a landmark visit from Zhang Zhijun, the minister of China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), at the end of June was always expected to receive a less than warm welcome from some in Taiwan. But a hotel in Taipei became just as much of a target for criticism as Zhang after management disrupted a protest against the top Chinese official.
Zhang was supposed to meet his Taiwan counterpart Wang Yu-chi, minister of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) at Accor Group's chain hotel Novotel. Prior to Zhang's arrival, the coordinating body of the Sunflower movement, the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, had called for protests against the meeting:
Why are we against the Wang-Zhang Meeting?
1. To stand opposed to any black-box political negotiation: before the cross-strait oversight bill is enacted into law, we should refuse convening any Wang-Zhang meetings;
2. The future of Taiwan must be decided by ourselves, and we stand opposed to any political propaganda that belittles our sovereignty;
3. We demand the “universal rights to access”, and we refuse to accept any empty promises.
The organization told activists via Facebook to show up at the airport and raise red cards in Zhang's direction, symbolically ejecting him from the political football pitch when he landed in Taiwan on June 25.
To avoid direct confrontation with police officers, a group of activists decided to spend the money to book two rooms at Novotel on June 24, the same day Zhang was scheduled to meet with Wang. They planned to use the hotel windows to hang protest banners in the hopes that the Chinese minister might see them.
But at 8:40 a.m. on June 25, hotel staff woke up the protesters in room 647 for “room service”. When the guests refused to open the door, they kicked it open with several police officers standing by and videotaping.
The three young guests inside gathered their belongings and hurried to the adjacent room 649, where Lai Chung-chiang, a human rights lawyer, was lodged. They were all confined in the room with electricity, water supply, and Internet cut off until 6 pm when hundreds of protesters gathered outside the hotel demanding an immediate permission for the group to leave their room.
The hotel later issued a statement to explain the situation:
On early Wednesday morning our team became aware that a number of unregistered persons were staying with two registered guests who checked in the hotel on 24 June.
In addition, fire, health and safety regulations stipulate the total number of guests permitted to stay in each room, which was exceeded in this case. According to law in Taiwan, each person staying in the hotel must present identification and complete registration formalities.
Activists released video of management entering their room. Some suggested the hotel's actions were a sign that it caved to political pressure surrounding the Chinese minister's visit.
On PPT, a popular e-bulletin board among university students, a campaign was launched calling for Taiwanese to disrupt the hotel's business with a set of clear instructions on how to book as many of the hotel rooms as possible, and then cancel them to prevent real guests from booking.
The review section of the Novotel Taoyuan‘s Facebook page was also bombarded with negative comments. One commenter wrote:
Warning! This hotel is not safe at all! Their staff will illegally break into your room with the policemen without your permission and a valid search warrant if your political tendency is against that of KMT or CPC. Stay away from this hotel if you value your privacy and human rights.”
While Wang Yu-chi rounded up Zhang's trip as an “unimaginable success” in cross-strait relations, the Hotel Novotel and the Accor Group, ended up paying a high price for the un-welcomed visit.