An official mission headed by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher was pelted with eggs, tomatotes, mud and rocks and attacked with sticks by an angry mob when arriving in Taiwan yesterday to work out "unofficial relations" following U.S. diplomatic recognition of mainland China.
The State Department, which delivered a "very strong protest" to the Taiwan government, said Christopher, U.S. Ambassador Leonard Unger and several other Americans suffered "minor cuts" in the manhandling outside Taipei airport.
Assistant secretary of State Richard Holbrooke told a press conference here that the United States holds the Taiwan government "completey responsible" for the safety of the Christopher party and all other official and private Americans there. He said Taiwan officials had expressed regret and provided assurances of the party's safety.
Holbrooke and other State Department officials stopped short of accusing the Taiwan government of arranging the tumultuous reception for Christopher but after reciting available facts, they invited reporters to draw their own conclusion.
In a meeting added to his schedule after the airport incident. Christopher was scheduled to meet President Chiang Ching-kuo Thursday morning. The U.S. delegation decided to continue the talks with the Taiwanese because the Nationalist Chinese guaranteed safety for the Americans, news services reported.
The original plan was for Christopher and the other officials to remain in Taipei until Friday night. Secretary of State Syrus Vance was reported to be in contact with President Carter at Camp David about the airport demonstration and the rest of the Christopher schedule.
The incident adds new strain to an already difficult relationship. Taiwan and its supporters, as well as a substantial part of the U.S. public, have reacted with sharp criticism to the Carter administration's decision to recognize Peking as the sole government of China and withdraw official ties from the government on Taiwan. However, the violence and unbridled emotion against Americans yesterday could have major effect on public and political opinion.
According to Harvey Feldman, the State Department's director of Taiwan affairs, U.S. officials on the scene repeatedly asked questions about security when a crowd of 6,000 to 10,000 persons turned up around the Taipei airport to greet Christopher. He said the repeated response from Taiwan military authorities was that everything was under control.
Official bitterness and cross-purposes were evident from the time Christopher and his party alighted from their special plane. Christopher's arrival statement that he had come to find ways "to maintain our cultural, commercial and other relationships on an unofficial basis" was immediately rejected by Taiwan's vice foreign minister, Frederick Chien.
Chien declared in response that "the U.S. government unilaterally yielded to Chinese Communist terms" in severing diplomatic relations and terminating a mutual defense treaty "in disregard of the commitments and promised" made in past years. He declared that "we feel most strongly" that future ties can be continued "only on a government-to-government basis." This is unacceptable to Peking.
Chien said he expected that "during your stay in Taipei, you will gain a clear understanding of the position of our government and the feelings of our people."
The emotions were dramatically demonstrated when the U.S. delegation, in automobiles provided by Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emerged from the airport to face a five-block long gauntlet of angry demonstrators 10-deep at some points along a narrow roadway.
According to the official State Department account, police on the scene were "ineffectual." Feldman said Christopher's car was "pelted first with eggs, then tomatoes, then mudballs containing rocks. Finally it was attacked with bamboo poles which broke windows, spraying glass on Christopher and Ambassador Unger, causing minor cut." The official said Christopher's car and other vehicles containing the U.S. party were surrounded and held by the mob for 15 to 20 minutes, during which they were repeatedly poked with bamboo sticks.
Washington Post special correspondent Bill Kazer reported from the scene the police with bullhorns urged people to "protest calmly" and that one policeman spread himself over the hood of an official vehicle to shield it from the mob.
Kazer reported there were some signs of orchestration, including two mobile restrooms parked conveniently near the airportdemonstration site. He also reported that the intense display of anger "reflected a deep resentment among the Taiwanese to the U.S. treatment of a longtime ally."
Posters reading "Carter is a fool" and "Carter go home to sell your peanuts" and shouts of abusive slogans were reported from the scene.
The motorcade bearing the U.S. party was able to inch away with police assistance, but dispersed in several directions. Christopher went to Unger's summer house, where he telephoned Washington.
According to the State Department, the deputy secretary was not fazed by the attack and quipped, "Egg shampoo is the in thing this year."