Hundreds of students have occupied Taiwan’s Legislature to protest against an impending trade agreement with China, fearing the pact would give the mainland too much political influence and economic clout over the democratic, self-governed island.
The protesters burst into the legislative chamber late Tuesday and quickly occupied it despite police efforts to drive them out, news reports said.
The students said they were demanding that the island’s President Ma Ying-jeou apologize to the Taiwanese people over the trade pact, and that the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party scrap a review that is part of the process of implementing the deal.
The KMT said this week that its initial review of the pact had been completed, despite opposition party concern about the mainland's growing influence over the Taiwanese economy.
China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since Nationalist forces, defeated by the Communists on the mainland, fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.
But the two sides have built up extensive economic ties in recent years, and in February they held their first direct government-to-government talks — a big step toward expanding dialogue beyond trade.
Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which has vowed to protect the island's economy from excessive Chinese influence, has said it would vote against the trade pact, although it lacks numbers to block the deal’s passage.
A political analyst said the students’ protest would not derail the deal.
"I don't think this is going to threaten the overall passage of the pact, though it may delay it a bit," said Lu Ya-li, a professor of political science at Chinese Culture University in the island’s capital, Taipei. "But this pact is too important for Taiwan's economy — it will pass regardless."
Lu said the students are worried that the pact would lead to an influx of mainland students into Taiwanese universities, threatening local students’ opportunities for scholarships and jobs.
The protesters were predominantly guided by political ideology and did not represent the majority of Taiwanese students, Lu said.
Mainland China is the island's biggest trading partner, and the two sides have signed a number of agreements on everything from transport to tourism since Ma took office in 2008.
Under the latest trade pact, China will open 80 of its service sectors to Taiwanese companies, and Taiwan will allow mainland investment in 64 sectors.