Ma Ying-jeou yields to calls for scrutiny of future mainland Chinese pacts

Taiwanese president agrees to increased scrutiny of future agreements with Beijing but won't scrap trade deal that's prompted protests

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 5:51am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 5:51am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday gave in to demands to increase scrutiny of future pacts signed with the mainland, but refused to annul a trade deal with Beijing that led students to occupy the parliament building.

His offer came as the protesters planned a huge rally outside the Office of the President in Taipei today. Organisers hope more than 100,000 supporters will take part.

At a twice-postponed news conference, Ma said: "We do not agree that the Executive Yuan should withdraw the service trade pact. This would cause too serious damage to Taiwan."

But he accepted that future agreements should be monitored under a legal framework.

He urged lawmakers of both the governing and opposition parties to complete the necessary legislation within the current session of parliament.

Ma said the trade pact, which allows the mainland and Taiwan greater access to each other's services sectors, would benefit the island's economy.

He dismissed criticism that the move amounted to "betraying Taiwan" by letting the mainland extend its economic and political influence.

"After we signed the pact with the mainland, Hong Kong immediately complained to the mainland" and amended its Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement with Beijing, Ma said.

"If the services trade pact is not so beneficial to Taiwan, why would Hong Kong complain?"

Asked if his government would adjust its policy towards the mainland, he said the cross-strait relationship was growing at the right pace.

He did not think the protests would deter mainland tourists from visiting Taiwan, but added: "It is difficult to say if our image would be affected if the situation is prolonged."

More than 1,000 people rallied in support of the agreement with the mainland.

They called themselves the "carnation movement" and urged the students to leave so the legislature could resume work.

"We support peaceful and rational expression of opinion, but by occupying the Legislative Yuan or the Executive Yuan, some students have crossed the legal line," said Huang Tzu-che, a spokesman for Listen to the Appeals of Carnation, one of three groups staging rallies yesterday to urge students to go home.

They clutched the flowers, which signify motherly love in Taiwan, and said many parents were worried about their protesting children.

Meanwhile, students occupying the legislature called on residents from all over Taiwan to join today's rally.

"All coaches have been fully booked. We are confident that the rally can draw 100,000 people," said Chen Wei-ting, a leader of the protest group dubbed the "sunflower movement".

The sit-in outside the building remained calm yesterday, with protesters conducting final rehearsals for today's rally in case police tried to halt their action.

Organisers called for a peaceful protest, but taught activists how to deal with water cannon and tear gas. Early on Monday, more than 100 people were hurt when police in riot gear evicted students who had stormed government offices near parliament.

Students seized control of the legislature on March 18 after the government went back on its word to conduct a line-by-line review in parliament of the trade services pact.