Taiwan Cabinet Passes Oversight Bill in Bid to End Impasse

Taiwan’s cabinet approved a bill to monitor agreements with China, as it seeks to end an impasse with students who have occupied the legislature for 17 days to protest a trade deal with the nation.

The cabinet today passed the bill put forward by the Mainland Affairs Council, which still needs legislative approval, it said in a e-mailed statement. The proposed measures include procedures for public consultations and a mechanism safeguarding national security, it said. President Ma Ying-jeou has rebuffed protesters’ demands to withdraw the trade pact that would open Taiwan’s services industries to Chinese competition.

Pressure on Ma escalated this week after demonstrators estimated by student leaders to be as many as half a million people marched outside the presidential office to call for the withdrawal of the deal, and a law to regulate all cross-strait pacts. The student leaders said yesterday they may vacate the chamber if the government agrees to consider a separate oversight bill drafted by civic groups and to adopt the measure before reviewing the services pact.

The stalemate with the students reflects growing skepticism in Taiwan over greater economic integration with China, which still claims the island as part of its territory. The nation has become Taiwan’s largest trade partner even as the neighbors remain without a truce after a civil war six decades ago.

Student Demands

Under the proposed bill, cross-strait pacts must be negotiated based on principles of equality, respect, mutual benefits and protecting national safety, according to the cabinet statement. Such deals will only become effective after completing relevant legislative procedures, it said. The bill also regulates such procedures, regular evaluations and the relationship between existing laws and any deals with China.

The measures as outlined don’t give lawmakers any “substantive, binding powers,” the opposition Democratic Progressive Party said today in a statement. Legislative approval should be required for any cross-strait agreement to take effect, it said. Under the proposed bill, legislative review is only needed if the pact requires a change in an existing law, or a new law.

Lin Fei-fan, one of the protest leaders, said in an interview yesterday that the oversight plan adopted today by the cabinet may not satisfy the students, and Ma continues to pressure ruling party legislators to block a version acceptable to them.

Protests erupted last month after the ruling Kuomintang said the trade deal had cleared committee procedures, which the DPP said violated an earlier agreement for a detailed review of its provisions. Tensions spiked when thousands of protesters clashed with riot police on the night of March 23 after storming the cabinet compound for the first time in Taiwan’s history.

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