After the demonstrators (most of them students and activists) occupied the Taiwanese Parliament on the 19th of March 2014, and protests are still going on, the government has instructed the police to restore order and clean-up the Parliament from what it described as an “unlawful” act that went against the principle of democracy.
The police ousted the protesters one by one but the determined protestors returned once again to occupy the parliament, which led the police to deploy thousands of officers in and around the building.
The confrontation between the demonstrators and the police forces has left around 110 people injured, 52 of which are police officers and 61 students were arrested, according to a statement of Taiwanese PM, Jiang Yi-Huah.
Although no one questions the good faith of the demonstrators, many trade groups and business spokesmen have commented on the protest, defining the participants “too young to fully understand the international economic situation or the pact”. This is a shared opinion by Lai Cheng-Yi, head of the General Chamber of Commerce and Yeh Ming-Feng, a consultant with the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce. They respect the concerns expressed by the demonstrators, but they consider their analysis incomplete.
The association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland has placed advertisements and statements in the press, highlighting the importance of the pact. Some entrepreneurs have also argued that the protest would have been more credible if it had been backed by businesses that would have been affected by the Agreement.
The Chinese government has not yet issued any official statement regarding the protest, but the news has spread across the Chinese social networks quickly. Evidently the Mainlanders were not pleased by the unfriendly roaring coming from the occupied Taiwanese parliament. “This is not the democracy we want for China” many wrote on Weibo. Some also compared the students to the Red Guard, rhetorically asking “Are we sure the Cultural Revolution is over? Watch those Taiwanese ‘Red Guard'”, referring to the protesters drinking and vandalizing their Parliament. The whole situation has been perceived as disturbing by the Chinese spectators.
As far as I am concerned, the protesters failed to raise any possible reasonable and concrete danger of this agreement. They are protesting because they fear China that will hold have more influence on Taiwanese politics by opening its doors to service sectors. What they failed to see, however, are the following three aspects:
- China is the biggest trading partner, which means that Taiwan as a whole has huge interests to come to terms with China.
- The agreement is an attempt to normalise cross-straits trade and investment, which have been restrictive and discriminatory since 1949.
- Taiwan never met its obligations under the WTO that provides MFN treatment to the Mainland. Furthermore none of the concessions Taiwan made in the pact go beyond its WTO commitments, and all commitments from the Mainland are genuinely WTO-Plus.
These are the three key points why the agreement has been signed. It can be described as a trade-off between the two parties. On one hand, it will help the Chinese police-makers to maintain stable the economic growth and to better deliver the declared transition of the economy towards a consumption-led one. On the other hand, the pact will help the Taiwanese government and strengthen businesses that are struggling (a clear example is HTC), because it looks forward to seeing an economic breakthrough this year.