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Premier Jiang visits protesting students, asked to leave
Wang Jin-pyng admits to difficult task
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-03-22 02:23 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Premier Jiang Yi-huah visited the protesters and students occupying the Legislative Yuan for the fourth full day Saturday in a protest against the trade-in-services pact with China, but he was asked to leave.

The activists have demanded an apology from and contact with President Ma Ying-jeou himself over his Kuomintang legislative caucus move last Monday to declare a promised review of the trade deal over.

Jiang stayed with the students for half an hour, but the short conversation brought no solution to the dispute. The protest leaders interrupted the premier and asked him to leave after he turned down a direct request to send back the trade pact.

Taiwan and China signed the agreement last June, but public concern over the secrecy surrounding its negotiation and over its impact on small and medium enterprises soon forced the KMT to agree to a clause-by-clause review and votes.

After months of stalemate, a joint session of the Legislature’s eight committees was scheduled to start the review last Monday, but the KMT immediately declared that phase over and passed on the trade pact to an eventual full session.

The students started their occupation on Tuesday night, but when it officially ended after 63 hours Friday noon, they announced a continuation because the government had not given in to their demands, including an apology from Ma, the thorough review of the trade pact and the passage of a law serving as a framework for the handling of future negotiations with China. The protesters also called on members of the public to besiege local KMT offices around the country beginning Saturday. Several party offices, including its national headquarters in Taipei, saw protesters appear.

Jiang arrived outside the Legislative Yuan at 4 p.m. precisely, proceeding slowly through the crowds surrounded by a bevy of bodyguards and amid shouts of “Down with Jiang” and “Send back the service trade pact.”

Student leader Lin Fei-fan came outside to meet Jiang, but first called on Ma to face them. As Jiang stood at some distance from him, Lin repeated the students’ basic demands and called for applause from the crowds.

The student leader asked the premier whether he could promise to give in to their demands to send back the pact and to first pass a law about cross-straits negotiations, but he averted a direct reply. As Jiang said the authorities would not use violence against the students, the crowds interrupted him with shouts to send back the pact to a full review. His words became almost inaudible amid the noise.

Jiang said the Cabinet felt the pact would benefit the country’s economy, so it would not reject the accord, but a detailed review was possible. A law to govern cross-straits negotiations could be worked out by the Legislative Yuan, Jiang said. Student leaders shouted that President Ma should come out and asked the premier to leave a half hour after he arrived.

Jiang did not enter the Legislative Yuan, but stayed outside, where thousands of supporters of the occupation gathered over the past few days. Some student leaders questioned whether the premier could serve as a real representative of the president.

The premier had first been scheduled to arrive around 3 p.m., but the meeting was postponed several times. He was accompanied by Education Minister Chiang Wei-ling. The protesters held up sunflowers, the symbol of their action, and placards as they sat on the ground waiting for him. Organizers estimated the total number of people attending the protests at more than 10,000 at the start of the weekend afternoon.

At a news conference an hour after his meeting with the students, Jiang accused the occupiers of damaging the symbol of democracy, the Legislative Yuan. He said that despite being aware of some risks, he had still decided to walk all the way to meet the student leaders.

The premier praised the protesters along the road for their rational and peaceful behavior, but criticized the leaders’ demands. “If you set preconditions first and refuse to talk if they are not met, that cannot be called a conversation,” Jiang said about his meeting.

He defended the contents of the trade pact, saying China’s concessions went further than demands from the World Trade Organization, but Taiwan’s did not. He emphasized that Chinese laborers would not be allowed to move into Taiwan, because immigration rules would not be relaxed for any citizens of China.

The Presidential Office said earlier it would not accept a direct conversation with the students who occupied the Legislative Yuan, even though Ma was always willing to talk to social groups in a peaceful and rational manner.

The government could discuss the contents of the service trade pact with any group which showed interest, but it could not give in to the demands of people who had entered and occupied the Legislature, the Presidential Office said.

Ma canceled weekend visits to Southern Taiwan to stay close to events, reports said. Tainan City Mayor William Lai said Ma should not travel to the south or anywhere else but should visit the Legislative Yuan instead to hear the students’ grievances for himself. The president was later seen visiting the New Taipei City Government in the company of Mayor Eric Liluan Chu.

Former President Lee Teng-hui, who faced similar protests two decades ago, said the government should sit down and talk to student representatives about their demands.

The occupation was going to reach its 100th hour at 1 a.m. Sunday, after days during which people from all sectors of society came to voice their support, from nurses and students to professors, entertainers and Chinese democracy activists. There were also isolated incidents however, with two people reportedly detained early Saturday after having used knives during an altercation with students, reports said.

Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin reportedly said Ma had promised police would not try violence to remove the students. The city government also recognized the outside protests as legal, diminishing the likelihood of confrontation, reports said.

Turning to solutions for the problem, the KMT caucus said it wanted the full Legislature to handle the trade pact review, but the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and the students said the Legislative Yuan should stick to the original plan and let the committees take a look at the accord.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who on Friday turned down an invitation from Ma to discuss solutions, said the situation could turn even more complex if the KMT and the DPP legislative caucuses each followed their own course. The KMT would continue the review in the full Legislature, while the DPP scheduled committee meetings to do the same starting Monday, reports said.

Wang told reporters that the former only amounted to a quick look at the results of the committee discussions without any significant new review. However, the other problem was who should manage the review if the pact was thrown back to the committees, he said.

The speaker emphasized he was still doing his best to bring both sides closer together and find a workable solution to the dilemma.

Wang took a lot of criticism from KMT officials and lawmakers for his handling of the conflict. Caucus leaders said the responsibility should lie with Wang, while outgoing representative to the United States King Pu-tsung condemned violent action and said the scenes seen in Taipei could not happen in Washington. Wang retorted that Taiwanese and Americans had different mentalities.

Sean Lien, a leading contender to represent the KMT in the November Taipei City mayoral election, proposed a debate about the trade pact while acknowledging there had been problems with the review procedure.

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