Thursday, March 20, 2014

Taiwanese occupy legislature over China pact

More than 10,000 people have descended on the legislature to protest the government's handling of a highly controversial trade agreement with China

Thousands of Taiwanese were surrounding and occupying the Legislative Yuan (LY) in Taipei on March 19 after legislators from the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) expedited the review process of a services trade pact with China that many fear could have damaging repercussions on Taiwan’s economy and sovereignty.

Controversy over the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) began in June 2013 after negotiators from Taiwan’s semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) signed the agreement, a follow-on to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in 2010, with their Chinese counterparts. The breadth and scope of the reciprocal agreement, which was negotiated behind closed doors and would open various sectors of the service industry to China, was such that many legislators from the KMT, whose leadership favors closer ties with China, balked, fearing the pact’s repercussions on their constituencies.

After the KMT imposed internal measures making dissent grounds for expulsion, its reluctant legislators fell in line and began the process of passing the pact in the legislature.

Thousands gather outside the LY on March 19
However, close scrutiny by opposition lawmakers, academics, and civic organizations, which held a series of peaceful protests, compelled the government to submit the CSSTA to the legislature for consideration. Further pressure from civil society, which feared negative consequences of the pact not only for Taiwan’s economy, but also for freedom of speech and other aspects of the nation’s democracy, eventually forced the government to compromise. A June 25, 2013 agreement stipulated that the pact would be reviewed clause-by-clause. Additionally, on September 25, parties agreed to hold a total of 16 public hearings — eight chaired by the KMT, and eight by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — for consultations with academics, NGOs, and many of the sectors that stood to be affected by the pact.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photos by the author)

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