Speaker Wang Jin-pyng bids to end Taiwan's student protests

Wang Jin-pyng offers concessions to try to halt occupation of parliament

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2014, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 3:49am

Taiwan's parliamentary speaker has made concessions to students occupying the legislature over a trade pact with the mainland, raising faint hopes that the demonstrators might end their protest.

Speaker Wang Jin-pyng said there would be no review or ratification of the controversial agreement in parliament until after a bill was passed putting pacts with Beijing under greater scrutiny.

"In consideration of the overall social costs, as the leader of the legislature, I solemnly state that there will be no review meetings or caucus meetings related to the trade services pact before enactment of the oversight bill," Wang said yesterday.

The speaker acted without the knowledge or backing of the government. The office of President Ma Ying-jeou said Wang had not told officials of his plan and it called on parliament to review the pact swiftly so it could be ratified.

Protesters fear the trade pact with the mainland - which would allow the two sides greater access to each other's services sectors - will lead to job losses in Taiwan. They also argue closer ties with Beijing pose a threat to the island's democracy.

The demonstrators stormed the legislature building on March 18 after the government went back on a promise a day earlier to have a line-by-line review of the trade agreement in parliament.

"At this critical moment, I hope you can respect the voices of others to end the dispute peacefully," Wang said, before going into the parliament building to speak to the protesters.

They applauded after he told them he was committed to first enact an oversight bill before any further discussion of the agreement in the legislature.

Student protest leader Lin Fei-fan, said: "We have perceived the goodwill of Speaker Wang and this is a small and initial victory for what we have been fighting for over 21 days and we will continue our efforts."

Lin also said he would discuss with protest leaders when they should end their demonstration.

The government last week swiftly passed legislation to increase scrutiny of future pacts with Beijing, but refused to withdraw the trade services agreement. The students want the pact scrapped and have said the level of scrutiny envisaged in the government's legislation was too limited.

Draft laws drawn up by civic groups allow for agreements with Beijing to be scrutinised by a much broader cross-section of society than the government's legislation, which has the cabinet take the lead in negotiations. The students want the civic group draft legislation reviewed in parliament.

Wang's comments were his first statement about the student-led protest and his first appearance in the legislature since the students took over the parliamentary chamber. He has come under criticism for failing to resolve the issue.

Wang said the occupation of the legislature had disrupted the operation of government, resulting in delays to about 2,800 bills and parliamentary motions.

The governing Kuomintang caucus at the legislature said yesterday it was also caught by surprise by the initiative from Wang, who is a party member.

Wang had failed to inform any caucus members before making his commitment, they said.