On Sunday, a planned mass protest against a trade deal between Taiwan and China brought more than 100,000 people to the streets of the capital city, Taipei. The protest is expected to last two weeks and is intended to pressure President Ma Ying-jeou into rejecting the deal with China.
The student-led protest showed a crowd of young faces wearing black and holding sunflowers as a symbol of hope. Many believe their pro-China president is selling them out to get easy money. The banners asked the Taiwanese government to secure their democracy by saying, “Don’t Sell [Taiwan].” The government leaders who back the deal say it is an opportunity to grow Taiwan’s economy and secure a more lucrative job market.
If passed, the trade deal will open 80 Chinese service sectors to Taiwan and in return, 64 Taiwanese sectors to China. The protesters have come together in peaceful demonstration to oppose the deal which they believe was rushed through legislation and embraced despite the people’s opposition. “We must safeguard [the] interests [of Taiwan],” said 29-year-old mother, Chin Mei Ching. “We have to guard against [China’s use of] the economy to control us.”
President Ma tried to appease the protesters, offering an additional law which would oversee all of Taiwan’s agreements with China. He added however that his intention to push the legislation through parliament would not change. “I want to make…clear [a] promise,” said Ma. “I support the [deal].” This offer did little to sway the crowd, who wants the legislation completely thrown out.
Lin Fei Fan, a student protester who helped organize the event, said the protesters will not aback down, despite a disappointing response from President Ma. “The [big] turnout…shows…a majority…that demands President Ma address our concerns.”
In response, President Ma and his office spokesman Garfie Li, warned the mass protesters that without the trade deal between Taiwan and China, their futures would be insecure. The agreement between the two countries was signed last June, but has been kept in the legislative body during protesting. Li said the deal would grow Taiwan’s service industries and guarantee the growth of Taiwan’s economy.
President Ma showed diplomatic worries when he said, “[Retracting] would…cost [our] international credibility.” Ma believes pulling out of the deal will hurt his image and that of Taiwan, as the deal was expected to pass easily. The Taiwanese people strongly oppose any continued reliance on China, who they believe has treated them as a misbehaving province since the separation of the island in 1949.
“China is using economic [deals] to [overtake] Taiwan,” said Liou Jong-yuan, a 47-year-old engineer. The words of Jong-yuan are in the mouths of all the protesters who want further isolation from China. Though those pleadings seem to have fallen on the deaf ears of President Ma, who says a meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping will not be deterred by the protests. Both sides have urged a meeting, although a date has not yet been set.
The 100,000 people standing outside shouting at the walls of the parliament building in a mass protest against the Taiwan-China trade deal hope to change history. Though it is unclear the effect the protests will have, the continued presence of their energy is unmistakable.
By Erin P. Friar