Taiwan's Treaty Trouble

The Backlash Against Taipei's China Deal

Protesters collide with police inside Taiwan's legislature in Taipei, March 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

A year ago this month, Beijing and Taipei signed their latest trade deal, which is the most expansive to date. In theory, the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services, as the pact is called, breaks down investment and other barriers for businesses in a wide range of service industries, including banking, construction, healthcare, and telecommunications. The deal also seems to mark a breakthrough in the two countries’ relationship. Indeed, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has in recent years made a number of moves to increase economic ties to the mainland. In February, the two governments met officially for the first time since 1949. 

Yet these diplomatic overtures aside, many Taiwanese believe that the unequal terms of the cross-strait agreement make plain what Beijing is really up to: regional domination, in this case by exploiting Taiwan and manipulating its leaders. As such, there are few signs that the treaty will enter force anytime soon; much of the Taiwanese public staunchly opposes the deal, and a legislative impasse has prevented its ratification.

Taiwanese critics charge that Ma and his political party, the Kuomintang, negotiated the pact without any public input or legislative due process. In March, when Kuomintang legislators tried to rush the treaty through committee without debating its terms, several hundred students swarmed government offices, which they occupied for over three weeks. To prevent the protest from expanding into another government building, the government sent in riot police, injuring hundreds of demonstrators. A week later, nearly half a million Taiwanese marched on the presidential palace in Taipei to support what the students call the Sunflower Movement. The sit-in ended only when Wang Jin-pyng, the legislature’s speaker, promised to hold up approval of the trade deal until lawmakers were granted greater oversight over all Ma’s negotiations with China. Now, as the deadlock continues, opponents of the pact persist in advocating for new legislative and constitutional mechanisms to oversee agreements with China.

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