Taiwan Students Set to Vacate Legislature After Speaker’s Pledge

Students occupying Taiwan’s legislature in protest against a trade deal with China said they will leave on April 10 after achieving some of their goals.

“We have made some progress on our demands,” student leader Chen Wei-ting said yesterday at a briefing shown on Taiwan’s cable television networks.

Legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng spoke with the protesters on April 6, pledging to halt legislative debate on the trade pact until new oversight rules are passed. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party supported a suspension of the review, Chairman Su Tseng-chang said in a statement.

The three-week occupation of the Legislative Yuan was led by students protesting against the agreement that would foster greater economic integration with China. The students say President Ma Ying-jeou’s government sought to pass the deal without a detailed review. Violence broke out between riot police and demonstrators on March 24 after a separate group of protesters stormed a compound housing the cabinet’s offices.

The agreement on service industries, which follows the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between China and Taiwan in 2010, was signed by negotiators in June. It will open as many as 80 industries such as banking, brokerages, publishing and hospitals to markets and competitors across the strait.

China and Taiwan have been ruled by separate governments for more than six decades following a civil war. China claims Taiwan as its territory, while Taiwan held its first democratic presidential election in 1996.

Diplomatic Predicament

The students’ plan to vacate the legislative chamber is in line with most people’s expectations, Ma said in a statement on the Presidential Office’s website. Ma again called for the passage of a China agreement oversight bill in the current legislative session, which ends in June, according to the statement.

Improved relations since Ma took office in 2008 led to the signing of trade deals with New Zealand and Singapore last year. Central bank Governor Perng Fai-nan said on March 27 that without such agreements, Taiwan’s economy would face marginalization and employment would be affected.

On the sixth day of the legislature’s occupation, Ma reiterated his intention to open the economy to global markets and competitors and cited Taiwan’s “diplomatic predicament” abroad -- its relationship with China -- as a major obstacle. Anger over the remarks spurred demonstrators to break into the cabinet compound hours later, only to be evicted by riot police by the morning. More than 100 people were injured.

The cabinet, led by Premier Jiang Yi-huah, last week approved a bill that includes rules for holding public consultations and dealing with national security risks when it comes to China agreements. Student leaders back a separate oversight bill drafted by civic groups.

Waiting in the wings is a planned $670 million investment by China’s largest bank, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., in Taiwan’s Bank Sinopac. Taiwan’s quota for the Renminbi Qualified Foreign Institutional Investors, or RQFII, program is also pending passage of the services trade agreement.

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