A day of action against a landmark trade deal with China will take place across Taipei City today, as more than 100,000 protesters — including former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) — are expected to gather and demand the government first hold a public referendum on the issue.
Opposition parties that are against the controversial agreement are vowing to send a “strong message” to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration that an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) would tie Taiwan’s economy closer to its communist neighbor.
The rally comes two days after the fifth round of cross-strait negotiations finished in Taipei on Thursday, with both sides agreeing to a list of goods and services subject to immediate tariff reductions.
The list appears to favor the interests of Taiwanese exporters, as China will lower tariffs for 539 Taiwanese items, accounting for US$13.8 billion — about 16 percent in annual trade. At the same time, Taiwan’s market will open up to 267 items from China, with an estimated value of US$2.86 billion, about 10.5 percent of Taiwan-bound exports.
The deal is set to be signed on Tuesday in the Chinese city of Chongqing, a move that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) says could pave the way for much closer and potentially dangerous political relations between the two sides.
“By agreeing to these benefits from China, Taiwan is playing straight into China’s hands. Of course there are political considerations behind the deal. [Taiwan] is being politically manipulated,” DPP spokesperson Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) said yesterday.
According to the DPP, the release of the “early harvest” tariff reduction list on Thursday, will galvanize representatives from Taiwan’s more fragile industries to take part in the rally because of heightened concerns about the impact of an influx of cheaper competing goods from China.
Despite a pledge by Ma to distribute NT$95 billion (US$3 billion) over 10 years in aid for industries potentially hard-hit by the agreement, Chou Ching-yuan (周清源), head of the Yunlin Towel Industrial Technology Development Association, said the money could not solve the root of the problem.
“An ECFA will limit us to China’s market and we will be unable to compete there because of their lower labor costs,” Chou said. “We want to sell made-in-Taiwan products around the whole world, not just in China.”
Labor unions, agricultural organizations and youth groups from around the country are also expected to descend on Taipei City today to join all five of the DPP’s mayoral candidates for the year-end special municipality elections in the two 3.5km marches around the city.
The rallies will begin at Taipei City’s Ding-Hao plaza and Wanhua Station, later congregating at Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office at 5pm, where a number of DPP politicians are expected to make speeches.
Along with former president Lee, former premiers Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) are to make speeches at Wanhua Station after 3:30pm. Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and former presidential advisor Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏) will speak at Ding-Hao Plaza at the same time.
The Ding-Hao plaza march, which begins at 4pm, will be led by DPP’s contender for Taipei City mayor, former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), starting from Zhongxiao E Road and then moving to Linsen S Road and Renai Road Section 1.
DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who is running for Sinbei mayor, will lead the Wanhua Station march, also beginning at 4pm, from Monga Boulevard and moving on to Heping W Road Sec. 2, Fuzhou Street, Roosevelt Road Sec. 1 and Zhongshan S Road.
Taipei City Police said traffic at the venues will become pedestrian-only starting from 2pm. In addition, roads near the protest route will be restricted from 4pm. Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office will become a restricted zone starting this morning at 6am.
While more than 1,000 police officers are set to be deployed along the route, the DPP has also vowed to bring their own security guards and step up patrols over fears that the rally could be disrupted by a number of KMT politicians.
The DPP expects numbers at the protest rally to exceed 100,000, joined by supporters of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and pro-independence groups. Upwards of 300 buses are expected to arrive in Taipei City from southern Taiwan, the officials said.
While saying that the public response to the protest has so far been enthusiastic, DPP officials added that the final turnout would depend on the weather conditions at the time. The Central Weather Bureau forecast a 70 percent chance of rain, as of press time yesterday.
The protest is expected to finish by 7pm.
Meanwhile, at a separate setting yesterday, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus said that given the DPP’s opposition to the ECFA, DPP’s nominees for November’s special municipal elections should promise publicly to exclude DPP-governed cities and counties from the tariff breaks to be included in the ECFA.
At a press conference held by the caucus, KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) said the nominees should also pledge not to allow produce from DPP-governed cities and counties to be exported to China or the DPP’s opposition to the ECFA would be nothing but manipulation of a “pseudo-issue.”
KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) said he did not understand the rationale behind the DPP’s rally, adding that even if 100,000 people join the rally, the voice of these people cannot overwhelm the “mainstream opinion” of the nation’s 23 million people.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG
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