TRADE PACT SIEGE: Ex-AIT chairman praises Ma on handling protests

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff writer with CNA

Wed, Apr 02, 2014 - Page 3

Former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush yesterday praised President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for “trying very hard” to resolve the political gridlock over the controversial cross-strait service trade agreement.

Bush, currently director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies, made the remarks during a meeting with Ma at the Presidential Office.

“I read your press conference on Sunday and I thought it was quite eloquent and quite conciliatory. I hope it provides a platform for resolving the issue and I think you are trying very hard,” Bush said.

Ma has held two international press conferences — one on March 23 and another on Saturday — to clarify the controversies surrounding the trade agreement since hundreds of students stormed and occupied the Legislative Yuan on March 18 to protest the agreement.

The student activists have demanded that the Executive Yuan withdraw the trade agreement from the legislature and suspend its legislative review until a legal mechanism to supervise cross-strait agreements is established. They have also demanded the holding of a citizens’ constitutional conference with representatives from all walks of life to ensure the public’s full and active participation in major national issues.

During yesterday’s meeting, Ma said that long-term occupation of the legislature was not a viable solution to the dispute over the trade agreement.

“To solve this issue, one must have not only an enthusiastic heart, but also a calm mind,” Ma said.

Ma said he was open to dialogue with the students and people from all sectors of society because he believed the issue could only be addressed when lawmakers are allowed to get back to work and to review and vote on the agreement item-by-item.

The president also reiterated that the trade agreement could not be retracted, saying that doing so would compromise Taiwan’s international credibility, impede the development of the service industry and hinder the nation’s chance of joining regional economic groups.

“It could also lead to a further rise in unemployment, particularly among youth,” Ma said.

With regard to the students’ ongoing occupation of the legislature and their brief seizure of the Executive Yuan on March 23, Ma said such behavior would not be tolerated in any democratic nation and that the perpetrators should be dealt with according to the law.

“Although the Republic of China’s legal system is designed to respect and protect peaceful rallies and protests, those who interfere with public functions or willfully damage and forcibly occupy public properties should be subject to the law,” Ma said.