Six days into a student-led occupation of Taiwan’s parliament, President Ma Ying-jeou reasserted his stance on a contentious trade pact with China and asked the protestors to step down in the name of democracy.
Ma, the ruling Kuomintang party and large business groups have backed the trade agreement, saying it will bring jobs and economic growth to the island off the southeast coast of China. Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party, meanwhile, is backing youth who worry that increasing trade with their behemoth neighbor will bring unwanted Chinese influence at the cost of Taiwanese independence.
"I tell you once again, with a responsible attitude, that this is completely for the sake of Taiwan's economic future," Ma told reporters in Taipei, the nation’s capital, on Sunday. “We do not plan to withdraw (it).”
This isn’t the first time that Ma has worked to promote ties with China since his election in 2008. His rule has seen “a series of landmark trade and economic agreements” with China, most notably the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 that removed tariffs on hundreds of internationally traded products. Trade between the two countries has nearly doubled during Ma’s presidency, and Chinese tourists are now the “largest single group of visitors” to Taiwan after Ma eased restrictions on arrivals in 2008. In the most revolutionary example of improved relations between the two countries, 2014 saw the first meeting between Chinese and Taiwanese officials since the CCP chased the nationalists out of China in 1949.
China still refuses to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, insisting that the island is a de facto Chinese territory. Since its split from the mainland in the mid 20th century, however, Taiwan abandoned dictatorship and today is “one of Asia’s most freewheeling democracies.”
Youth protests of the newest trade pact with China walk a very fine political line. Ma insists that the occupation is “illegal” and that protestors should step down, but students believe that by encouraging Chinese involvement in Taiwan’s economy, the government is creating a threat to the island’s very existence. Allowing communist China an ever-widening window into Taiwan’s economy could leave the small democracy vulnerable to political pressure — and reunification.
"Are we not proud of Taiwan's democracy and rule of law?" Ma said. "If there is no rule of law, democracy cannot be protected -- this is the government's unswerving basic position."
The trade pact is a “follow-up agreement” to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, and aims to increase service trade between China and Taiwan. First signed in July, the pact is currently making its way through Taiwan’s parliament and was approved by a committee on Monday. It is far from being ratified, however, and the Taiwanese government will need to expel the protestors from the legislature before any more progress can be made.