Taiwan student protest hurts chance of meeting between Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou, experts say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 3:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 5:26am

The stand-off in Taiwan over a cross-strait services pact has likely scuttled what would have been a historic meeting later this year between President Xi Jinping and the island's leader, Ma Ying-jeou, analysts say.

At a cross-strait forum held in Hong Kong on Wednesday, speakers from Beijing and Taipei said warming ties had been affected by the student-led protest. One of the protesters' chief concerns is that the pact, which would open services such as banking and healthcare, would give the mainland a measure of control over the island.

"Zhang Zhijun, chief of the Mainland Taiwan Affairs Office, cancelled a trip to Taiwan scheduled for later this month," said Hong Chi-chang, a former legislator with Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Fierce opposition to the pact has torpedoed a number of cross-strait exchanges.

The provincial governments of Guizhou and Jiangsu withdrew plans to promote trade on the island this month, said Hong, who once led the Straits Exchange Foundation, Taiwan's non-governmental body for cross-strait affairs.

In February, Wang Yu-chi, chairman of the island's Mainland Affairs Council, held out a possible meeting between Xi and Ma at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Beijing in November.

Beijing rejected the idea on the grounds that an international forum was not the appropriate venue.

At the Hong Kong forum, Chiu Cheyne, a former secretary general of the exchange foundation, suggested the leaders could meet at a banquet on the final day of the summit, despite Beijing's unambiguous rejection of the idea.

"Beijing always opens the door for Taiwan," said Zhu Weidong, deputy director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "But the student movement has shown the world that no one in Taiwan is qualified to cross the threshold and talk to their mainland counterparts."

In a rebuke of Ma, widely perceived as the island's most Beijing-friendly leader in years, Zhu said: "The island consistently fails to elect someone who represents the majority."

On Sunday, large crowds gathered outside the Presidential Office in Taipei, exhorting Ma to cancel the deal. Taipei and Beijing signed the pact in June of last year. It has yet to be put before the island's lawmakers for ratification.