China and Taiwan have been improving trade relations under Taiwan’s China-friendly president, Ma Ying-jeou, and on Tuesday the two sides signed a free trade agreement. Many Taiwanese think it is a Chinese ploy.
Thousands demonstrated on Saturday in Taipei against a fair trade deal with China
Thousands upon thousands of demonstrators gathered in Taiwan's capital city on Saturday to protest the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between China and Taiwan.
The organizers of the demonstration, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), have called for a referendum on the ECFA. They estimated a turnout of 100,000 for the approximate five-kilometer march down one of Taipei's busiest streets.
The protests were organized by the opposition that wanted a referendum to be held on the issue
Many carried signs reading "Stop ECFA", "No secret talks" and "Taiwan is our country", while chanting "stop ECFA, we want justice!" Others used vuvuzelas, blow horns and megaphones to convey their dismay about the agreement, which will cut tariffs on around 800 products traded between the two countries.
The agreement is strongly backed by President Ma Ying-jeou, who belongs to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Supporters say it will create jobs and boost trade, thus improving Taiwan’s economy.
More gains for Taiwan but lack of transparency
It would seem Taiwan has more to gain from the agreement, as tariffs will be cut for around 540 Taiwanese products, including petrochemicals and plastics, cars and parts and textiles, while only half of that number of goods from China will see tariffs cut. The deal will also open Taiwan’s service industries market for Chinese investment.
Relations between Taiwan and China have improved considerably under President Ma Ying-jeou
But many Taiwanese are worried about the lack of transparency, like one demonstrator who said it is "a big mistake because the KMT is negotiating with China, but they are not telling the Taiwanese people what they are doing. Beijing just wants to take over Taiwan with its economic weight. And they want to do it in a political union. The Taiwanese people want to know what is going on, but the KMT is just telling us what it wants to."
"If Taiwan signs this agreement, simple workers in Taiwan will lose their jobs. We can't compete with them. It is bad for us. They will start by taking over the banks then they will dominate our entire economy," another demonstrator said.
Farmers fear they will not be able to compete
A large portion of the protestors were from central and southern Taiwan and many of them farmers, who were worried they will not be able to compete with Chinese producers.
Many of the demonstrators were farmers from central and southern Taiwan
"It is bad for farmers," a man from Tainan said. "Goods from China are cheaper. We farmers will lose. We are inviting them to invade Taiwan and our government is lying to us. Today’s march made our voices heard. We want democracy in this process, we want a referendum. We want to make our own decisions."
A number of preparatory talks on the ECFA have been held since January 2010 - the latest took place in Taipei on June 24. Despite the numerous demonstrations throughout the country, President Ma Ying-jeou did not cave under the pressure.
Author: Sarah Berning (Taipei)
Editor: Anne Thomas