Opponents of trade pact with China occupy Taiwanese legislature

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Several hundred opponents of a far-reaching trade pact with China occupied Taiwan’s legislature late Tuesday, further delaying action on a measure that Beijing strongly favours.

The protesters burst into the legislative chamber around 9 p.m. and shortly after midnight repulsed a police effort to evict them. There were no reported injuries or arrests in the confrontation.

The trade agreement would allow Taiwanese and Chinese service sector companies — in businesses ranging from insurance to beauty parlours — to set up branches or shops in the other’s territory. Opponents say the deal would cost tens of thousands of Taiwanese jobs and help China move forward with its longstanding goal of bringing democratic Taiwan under its control.

The protesters’ action followed a decision by lawmakers from the ruling Nationalist Party to renege on a promise to undertake a clause-by-clause review of the pact.

The trade agreement was signed by the sides last June but delaying tactics by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and President Ma Ying-jeou’s continuing spat with the legislative speaker, who is a member of his own party, have so far delayed its ratification. The Nationalists control 65 seats in the 113-seat legislature so the bill’s final ratification seems a foregone conclusion.

China has repeatedly pressed Taiwan to enact the measure, seeing it as an important milestone in the process of economic integration between the sides that began in earnest in 2008 when the China-friendly Ma took over from his DPP predecessor.

Since China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, bringing Taiwan under its sway has been the overreaching goal of Beijing’s policy toward the island of 23 million people.