Beijing concerned over stalled trade deal in Taipei

Taiwan Affairs Office says both sides of the strait do not want a return to previous tensions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 4:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 4:56am

The mainland yesterday expressed concern over a long-stalled trade service pact signed with Taiwan, but avoided saying whether it was open to renegotiating the deal.

The island’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, is trying to contain a student-led protest over the agreement, and made a new pledge that any talks with the movement’s leaders would be open to the media.

The demonstration escalated late Sunday when police dressed in riot gear used water cannons to remove students who had broken into the offices of the island’s cabinet, the Executive Yuan Council. More than 110 people were injured. It is just blocks away from the legislature’s chamber, which about 200 students took seized on March 18.

The island’s top law-enforcement official, Wang Cho-chiun, sought to appease opposition lawmakers calling for his sacking by apologising to students for how they were treated.

In Beijing, Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesman for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told a news briefing the pact was the result of economic liberalisation and globalisation.

“People on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are reluctant to see the progress of cross-strait economic co-operation disturbed,” he said. “No one would like to see cross-strait relations return to tension and confrontation” as before in 2008, he said. “From the mainland’s perspective, the trade service pact is well-drafted and mutually beneficial.”

The deal would open up service industries such as banking and hospitals across the Taiwan Strait.

But students fear the pact will lead to fewer jobs and that closer ties with the mainland threaten democracy on the island. The mainland’s official Global Times said Beijing should explicitly state it would reject any offer to renegotiate the deal.

When asked about the editorial, Ma Xiaoguang said: “Public opinion on the mainland is diversified. The mainland’s policy on Taiwan enjoys high public approval here … I hope the Taiwanese society can have a deep understanding” of that.

He also said both sides were continuing to plan a trip to Taiwan by the office’s director, Zhang Zhijun.

Ma Ying-jeou said at a KMT meeting that there was nothing secretive about the pact. It had been highly scrutinised and was in the interests of the public and Taiwan.

He called on the students to be reasonable and stop their occupation that has already paralysed parliament for eight days. The occupation has drawn thousands of additional protesters outside the legislature.

The police action on Sunday was ordered by Taiwanese Premier Jiang Yi-huah who said students who stormed the cabinet had vandalised government property and obstructed normal government operation.

Through his office, the president said he was willing to meet the students and bring the demonstration to an end.

Lin Fei-fan, a leader of the student protest, called the offer “insincere”. A Ma spokeswoman invited them to meet, but there was “no mention of what would be discussed or where should it take place”, Lin said.

Garfie Li, the spokeswoman for Ma’s office, said the president would continue to seek talks with the students, and any meeting would be open to the media.
The pact, a follow-up to the 2010 Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement, has been on hold in the legislature. The ruling Kuomintang sent the pact to a floor meeting for ratification in its entirety and not to an itemised review, as previously agreed.