About one week after hundreds of protestors took over Taiwan’s parliament building in Taipei in opposition to an upcoming trade agreement between Taiwan and mainland China, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou has decided to hold talks with protestors to try and end this political crisis.
Spokeswoman Garfie Li said yesterday: “Based on the principle that no pre-conditions are set, President Ma is willing to invite representatives of the students to the presidential office for dialogue on the cross-strait trade service agreement issue.” Li went on to say that President Ma had been willing to speak with the students “in a democratic and rational manner” as early as March 23rd, when they “violently stormed” the Executive Yuan Council.
Despite this statement, President Ma has received increasing amounts of criticism from the Taiwanese media for initially refusing to speak with the protestors, principally comprised of students and young activists. Earlier this week, the deployment of riot police with batons and water cannons led to 61 arrests and 150 injuries, but no deaths.
On Monday, the US State Department urged dialogue between the two sides, hoping that they could peacefully resolve the dispute.
From the protestor’s side, this controversial trade pact will lead to a) fewer local jobs and b) closer ties with mainland China which, when combined, pose an existential threat to democracy on the island. According to a statement published online, protestors against the “black-box” agreement have three demands (translation provided by reddit user davidonformosa):
1) Repeal the Cross-Straits Services Trade Agreement.
2) Urge the speaker of parliament Wang Jin-pyng to refrain from using the police and disallow riot police to enter the parliament.
3) The parliament must pass laws to oversee and regulate any documents to be signed between Taiwan and China.
From the other side, these protests have received much criticism for their violent and unorganized nature. Pictures of students vandalizing facilities spread across the internet, and many expressed their disappointment, including some who were present for the 1989 protests in Tiananmen square. South China Morning Post reports:
Tao Duanfang, a Chinese scholar and columnist who had participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest, said Taiwanese students need to figure out exactly what they were opposing first.
‘They also need to prove that they can be constructive besides being purely destructive,’ he said.
Tao said when he took to the streets with other students in 1989, instructions were given by student leader Wang Dan to make sure that the protest would proceed in an orderly manner.
Yet he said Taiwanese students this time seemed to have been told exactly the opposite.
These protests ride on the tails of the historic first government-to-government talks between the island and mainland China since the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan in 1949. Of the decision to ban two Taiwanese journalists from covering the meeting in Nanjing, Sarah Cook, a senior research analyst at Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO that focuses on freedom of the press and human rights, released the following statement:
The Chinese government’s refusal to grant access to these journalists reflects two important trends — the Communist Party’s expansion of its tactics for influencing media from Hong Kong to Taiwan, and the government’s use of visa denials as a way to punish overseas news outlets for critical coverage.
Analysts warn that these recent protests will damage Taiwan’s newfound relations with mainland China.
A student leader of the protests, Chen Wei-ting, says that the meeting between President Ma and the protestors should be held in public for purposes of full disclosure to the public.
By Alex Stevens