Although Taiwan’s president reached a tentative trade deal last year with China, throngs of protesters took to the streets last week to pressure the parliament to reject the accord.
Thousands of demonstrators occupied the legislature in the capital, Taipei, in hopes of quashing the follow-up plan to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement of 2010. That deal reduced trade barriers between China and Taiwan and was seen as a fundamental step toward smoothing relations between the two, which split after the 1949-50 civil war.
The new element of the plan, which would reduce barriers across the Taiwan Strait to investment in services such as health care, finance and insurance in both economies, was approved last Monday by a committee of Taiwanese lawmakers. Opponents believe the deal would give China too much influence over Taiwan’s economy.
Since 2008 Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has worked to improve relations with Beijing, but resistance to the trade deal could derail that. China considers Taiwan part of its territory that will one day be reunited with the mainland, with or without force.
Expanding trade and tourism is necessary for the two societies to co-exist peaceably. But by seeking to block approval of this latest agreement, Taipei’s demonstrators jeopardize something far more critical, the future.