Taipei: - Weeks-long mass protests led by Taiwanese students against a trade deal with China have agreed to relinquish their occupation of Taiwan's parliament on Thursday, after top officials promised to meet some of their demands.
Thousands of Taiwanese students stormed the island's parliament on 18 March after the ruling Nationalist party unilaterally passed the cross-strait service trade agreement, a pact with China that critics say could harm the territory's small businesses and erode its political autonomy.
It was the largest anti-Beijing protest in years on the island, where Nationalists fled in 1949 after losing to the Communists in a civil war. Shouting "defend democracy, repeal the trade pact!" the protesters pledged to continue their opposition to a services trade agreement which has been nearly approved by parliament.
The demonstrators broke into the building in late March after the trade pact passed a crucial legislative hurdle and stood a single step away from full approval. Hundreds of protesters took turns occupying the building, repelling police efforts to evict them. Hundreds of thousands later marched on the president's office after leading to scuffles with police in which several people were injured.
President Ma Ying-jeou enraged the demonstrators three weeks ago when he decided to fast-track a vote on a trade pact with China, bypassing a parliamentary committee that was supposed to vet the terms of the agreement line by line. Demonstrators fear the deal could make Taiwan more susceptible to China's influence.
"This movement is not over," Miles Lin, the leader of the sit-in told fellow protesters. "After leaving here, we're taking this movement out to broader Taiwan society." Demonstrators, who carried sunflowers as a symbol of hope, said the trade pact will benefit wealthy companies with Chinese links and expressed fears it could lead to Chinese encroachments on Taiwan's cherished democratic institutions.
The protesters first demanded that the party review the pact line by line, then later that it rescind the pact and establish a public oversight mechanism for future cross-strait trade agreements. The occupation fanned out into a larger movement on 30 March. According to police, 116,000 demonstrators filled the streets around the legislature while protest organisers estimated the turnout at between 350,000 and 500,000.
Taiwan and mainland China have been at loggerheads since 1949, when U.S.-backed nationalist forces, led by Chiang Kai-shek, retreated across the strait from Mao Zedong's Red Army. These days, the People's Republic is unlikely to take back Taiwan by force, but officials in Beijing still hanker after greater influence over this "renegade province" through shrewdly vitalizing business ties.
The parliament speaker Wang Jin-pyng promised on Sunday that the party would not review the trade pact until it had developed a mechanism for public oversight. On Monday, protest leaders announced plans to leave.
"Oversight legislation for the agreement still hasn't been finalised, so it's hard to say whether we'll be satisfied or not," said Li Yue, a 20-year-old protester from Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University. "But looking at things right now, it doesn't seem like staying in the legislature will do much."
On Monday, the territory's president, Ma Ying-jeou, praised the protesters' decision to disperse. Last week, he stood by the pact, arguing it would encourage more regional trade deals, and he claimed that the protesters' concerns were unfounded. Ma's approval rating has been in the single digits since September.
Although Taiwan-China ties have warmed in recent years, the trade pact – which would allow China to invest in 64 of Taiwan's service sectors, including advertising, telecommunications and media – has proved hugely controversial. Critics say it would allow China to tighten its grip on Taiwan via investment and mass immigration. Supporters believe it would give the territory a much-needed economic boost.
Many Taiwanese say 'Tibet is a lesson for Taiwan and it's people. The people of Taiwan must wake-up it's so called "one country, two systems." The recent mass protests by Taiwanese students sent a clear message to Ma Ying-jeou's government not to sell out their precious island. Tibet's past and future have direct and pressing relevance to Taiwan because many Taiwanese people believe that Tibet's current fate may well be their future too.'