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Taiwan - Activists Challenge Trade Agreement With China
Protesters say pact will damage Taiwan’s economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing
Thousands of young Taiwanese waved banners and shouted slogans to mark the third day of their occupation of parliament to protest against a trade pact with China which they fear could further swell Beijing’s economic influence.
Parliamentary approval of the pact would pave the way for greater economic integration between the two former geopolitical foes by opening 80 of China’s service sectors to Taiwan and 64 Taiwanese sectors to China.
“We will continue [the occupation] since [President] Ma did not respond to our demands or hold an open dialogue with the students and the people. We will take further actions,” one of the protest leaders, Huang Yu-feng, told reporters. Details would be unveiled later in the day, she said, after their ultimatum expired at noon on Friday.
President Ma Ying-jeou, meanwhile, called for a peaceful end to the standoff, saying a consensus should be reached in “rational and democratic ways”.
“President Ma hopes the parliament will resume functioning soon to ensure the constitutional order so the dispute can come to a peaceful end,” his office said in a statement.
Police set up barbed-wired barricades outside the presidential office and 2,000 officers were deployed in parliament, as the 200-plus protesters considered their counter-measures.
The protesters – mainly young students – stormed security barriers and took over parliament’s main chamber late on Tuesday in the first such occupation of the building in Taiwan’s history.
Hundreds of police attempted to barge their way in on Wednesday and end the occupation, but they failed to breach the improvised barricades fashioned by the students out of piles of armchairs.
Protesters have demanded Ma “return” the service trade pact to China, rejecting the government’s bid to push ahead with plans to ratify it despite opposition from the public.
Emotions were running high among the crowd of about 12,000 people who rallied outside parliament on Friday in support of the protesters in what some local media have termed Taiwan’s “Jasmine revolution”.
Some demonstrators waved placards calling Ma a dictator while others applauded and cheered after painting huge protest slogans reading “When dictatorship becomes real, revolution should be obligation” on the top and front wall of the parliament building.
“While the students remain inside we will be outside to support them. They are doing this for democracy and for Taiwan,” said Su Tseng-chang, chairman of the leading opposition Democratic Progressive party.
Signed in July, the agreement is designed to open up trade in services between China and Taiwan, which split 65 years ago after a civil war. The pact passed its first parliamentary hurdle on Monday after it was approved by a committee in spite of opposition from some lawmakers.
The pact is a follow-up agreement to a sweeping Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 to reduce trade barriers between China and Taiwan.
Ma has overseen a marked thaw in relations with Beijing since he came to power in 2008, pledging to strengthen trade and tourism links. But China still considers Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification – by force if necessary.