President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration yesterday agreed to a request to hold a national affairs conference on economics and trade in a bid to resolve the controversies surrounding the cross-strait service trade agreement.
However, the government rejected demands by students protesting the agreement for a citizens’ constitutional conference to address the long-term political stalemate.
“President Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) have discussed at length the request by industrial and financial heavyweights last week to hold a trade conference. They have instructed the National Development Council [NDC] to evaluate such a conference’s feasibility,” Executive Yuan spokesman Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) told a press conference yesterday afternoon.
The Executive Yuan is scheduled to announce details of the plan at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, Sun said.
The move was interpreted by some as a distraction from Ma’s refusal to yield to the students’ demand to call a citizens’ constitutional conference with representatives from all walks of life to ensure the public’s full and active participation in major national issues like the apct.
The students issued the demand on the grounds that lawmakers from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which holds an absolute majority in the legislature and which has Ma as chairman, have forsaken their duty to represent the people because they have to toe the party line or face being disciplined.
Sun said Ma did not respond to the protesters’ demand because cross-strait economic interaction and regional economic integration are major issues facing the country and holding a national affairs conference on economics and trade would ensure that “the attention of the public was not diverted” from these issues.
With regard to another demand by the students that the government ratifies the civil version of the draft bill to establish an oversight mechanism on cross-strait agreements, Sun said Jiang had entrusted the Mainland Affairs Council with drawing up a similar bill, which was likely to be passed by the Cabinet and referred to the legislature for review on Thursday at the earliest.
National Taiwan University graduate student Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), one of the leaders of the student movement, said a national affairs conference on economics and trade was different in nature to a citizens’ constitutional conference.
Earlier yesterday, Ma said during a meeting with dozens of industry representatives at the Presidential Office that he had “listened carefully and responded positively” to the students’ demands.
“Since the service trade agreement has been signed and is pending review in the legislature, we think it is appropriate to review it while working to establish a mechanism to monitor cross-strait agreements,” Ma said.
NDC Minister Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) said the council plans to discuss three topics at the proposed conference — cross-strait trade relations, the free-trade policy toward the international market and the business environment in Taiwan.
“The nation’s cross-strait trade policy is at the center of recent political disputes, and we may encounter the same issue as we try to join the RCEP [Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership], of which China is a member,” Kuan said.
All related government departments will be responsible for conducting meetings concurrently, and there will be a final conference to integrate the opinions expressed in previous meetings, Kuan said.