A resident of mainland China was apparently so beguiled by this island’s coming elections and the promise of democracy that he spent seven hours paddling through the sea in an effort to see them with his own eyes.
The resident, Guo Zhiyong, a 35-year-old man who described himself as a “political researcher,” was apprehended by the Taiwanese Coast Guard on Wednesday morning after reaching the outlying Taiwanese island of Kinmen, said an official, Pu Yu-lin.
Mr. Guo, who told the authorities he comes from the far west region of Xinjiang, set off from coastal Fujian Province on a flotation device made from bamboo and Styrofoam. Mr. Pu said officials had been tracking his progress by radar.
After his arrest, he told Taiwanese reporters that he was inspired to make the perilous journey by Taiwan’s presidential race, which pits the incumbent Ma Ying-jeou against two opponents. “I want to see your elections, with campaign flags flying all over the place,” he said.
The elections, which take place Jan. 14, have piqued considerable interest in China, which is led by a Communist government keen to dampen the democratic yearnings of its people. After decades of authoritarian rule, Taiwan — considered by Beijing to be a breakaway province — held its first direct presidential elections in 1996.
With five weeks to go, polls suggest the current race is particularly tight.
Last Saturday, a lively but civil debate among the three candidates was viewed by millions of mainlanders via the Internet — even though many of the video links were deleted by government censors.
Judging by the torrent of comments expressed through Chinese microblogging sites, people were impressed.
“Are Chinese people only fit for despotism and totalitarianism?” remarked one viewer. “Just take a look at Taiwan.”
As for Mr. Guo, his idealism appears to have faded after his arrest. Paraded before the cameras in handcuffs, he expressed dismay about his impending deportation back across the straits. “Taiwan and China are one country,” he said, speaking through a cloth sack that concealed his face. “How can you arrest me for illegal entry?”
Moments before he was led to a waiting police vehicle, he was asked what he thought about Taiwan’s democracy.
“It’s horrible,” he said.