Authorities on the democratic island of Taiwan have begun demolishing a shrine to the Chinese Communist Party on the site of a former Buddhist temple, sending in hundreds of police and security guards to "maintain order" at the site.
The Changhua county government and police dispatched 14 heavy bulldozers to raze the temple, much of which was illegally built on land zoned for agricultural use, local media reported.
Temple owner Wei Ming-jen was arrested for obstructing police after he tried to resist the demolition, throwing a punch at a county official who led workers to cut off power and water to last of the buildings.
"I would like to say to everyone today that the Chinese people have been hoodwinked for too long, and the Chinese people on Taiwan have been lied to for too long," Wei said on Wednesday.
"Today, President Tsai Ing-wen has the gall to spit on the Chinese people," he said. "Well, the day will come when we spit back."
The demolition will likely take seven days to complete and cost the taxpayers some U.S.$16.31 million,.deputy county magistrate Lin Ming-yu told reporters,
"We have had [Wei] under surveillance since the early hours of this morning," Lin said. "It has been a week since we formally notified them in writing [of the demolition work]."
"We basically didn't meet with any resistance," he said.
Dispute with nuns
The illegal structures were part of a slated expansion project at the 100-year-old temple overseen by retired soldier Wei, who allegedly evicted nuns from the premises after using fraudulent means to get them into unrepayable debt, according to Taiwan media.
The legal dispute between Wei and the nuns was ongoing on Wednesday.
"The county had previously pledged not to tear down the illegal structures until after the legal dispute between the nuns and Wei was settled, but that changed when the temple was featured in a New York Times report published on Sept. 20," the news website Focus Taiwan reported.
A National Security Bureau official has previously told reporters that Wei's "Patriotic Education Base of Socialist National Thought in Taiwan Province of the People's Republic of China," represented a national security threat to the island, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party.
Wei has previously claimed that Beijing supports his activities, which included blaring the Chinese national anthem across the valley during daily ceremonies at the temple to raise the flag of the People's Republic of China.
Portraits of late supreme Chinese leader Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai replaced Buddhist art on the walls, while Wei had announced his determination to "speed up the reunification" of Taiwan with the People's Republic of China.
The demolition comes amid public concerns that Wei may be an agent of the Chinese state, or at least supported by Beijing's United Front Work Department, and amid criticism of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for not doing enough to prevent the temple from taking shape in the first place.
Local councilors said Beijing's People's Liberation Army (PLA) currently has more than 800 missiles targeting Taiwan, making it a hostile foreign power.
Plans for possible invasion
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is gradually preparing for a possible invasion of Taiwan, according to a military analysis published by the Pentagon in Washington earlier this year.
Armed forces under the Chinese Communist Party "continued to develop and deploy increasingly advanced military capabilities intended to coerce Taiwan, signal Chinese resolve, and gradually improve capabilities for an invasion," the U.S. Department of Defense said in an annual report on China's military capabilities.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the Republic of China under the nationalist Kuomintang government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
When the regime fled to Taiwan in 1947 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communist troops, the Republic of China government ceased to control most of China, though it continues to be the official name of the Taiwan government.
The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
But Beijing regards the island as part of China, and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence. Beijing has succeeded in isolating Taiwan diplomatically by insisting that its diplomatic partners break off ties with Taipei under the "One China" policy.
Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.