Taiwan Students End 24-Day Occupation Over China Trade Deal

Taiwanese students protesting a proposed trade deal with China yesterday ended their 24-day occupation of the legislature, as lawmakers prepare to review bills requiring greater oversight for such agreements.

Students leading the demonstration started leaving the chamber in Taipei at about 6 p.m. yesterday after saying earlier this week they had seen “critical progress” on their demands. Legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng pledged April 6 to halt debate on the services trade pact with China until new oversight rules are passed.

The Sunflower Movement, as the protest is known, has laid bare Taiwan’s division over greater economic integration with China, which claims the island as its territory. Suspending the review of the pact, which would open up services industries, represents a concession by the ruling Kuomintang, led by President Ma Ying-jeou. Ma has overseen the forging of closer ties with China since he became president in 2008.

“We came with our dreams and now we leave with responsibilities,” student leader Lin Fei-fan said in a speech in the chamber before walking out. “Taiwan is our biggest responsibility. The country, whether it’s the government or the legislature, should belong to the people.”

At least two versions of the oversight bill, one supported by the demonstrators and another by the executive branch, were submitted to the legislature. The Kuomintang and opposition Democratic Progressive Party reached a consensus to begin legislative procedures for the bills this month.

Ma Response

Lin pledged to continue monitoring the pact’s review and the oversight legislation while also expanding the movement to the entire island. The students walked out of the chamber as scheduled, many carrying sunflowers. Hundreds of riot police surrounded the building as thousands of people gathered outside in support of the students.

The agreement on service industries, signed in June under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between China and Taiwan, would open as many as 80 industries such as banking, publishing and hospitals to markets and competitors across the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan and China have been ruled by separate governments for more than six decades following a civil war.

The protests erupted last month amid claims that the ruling party circumvented a line-by-line review of provisions in the trade pact. Tensions spiked when demonstrators clashed with riot police on March 24 after storming the cabinet compound for the first time in Taiwan’s history.

The students’ plan to vacate the legislative chamber is in line with most people’s expectations, Ma said this week. In an address to a group of U.S. scholars and members of Congress on April 9, Taiwan’s leader said passage of oversight rules on cross-strait deals should aid the passage of the services trade pact with China.