Saturday, 23 May 2009

Falling on Deaf Ears

But a yes to China may also be a yes to Taiwan

The Taiwanese are no stranger to taking to the streets as seen in 2006 when they campaigned against the corruption of then president Chen Shui-bian. In 2008 the KMT returned to power with 81 out of the 112 seats available in the Legislative Yuan compared with the 27 seats of Chen's party. Part of the reason for the demise of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was their hostile relations with mainland China as they sought to become more economically independent.

This policy has now been reversed by current president Ma Ying-jeou and to good effect. A slight dip in the polls may be expected due to the global financial crisis but the pro-China policies seem to have kept this to a minimum. In general the stock market has been doing well and very recently the Taiwanese Health Minister was invited to the World Health Assembly as an observer for the first time in 38 years.

However recent suggestions from Ma about the possibility of a free trade agreement with China have sparked opposition from the DPP. They took to the streets on 17th May calling Ma a traitor and attempting to organise a referendum on the issue.

In fact such an agreement may be essential to the economic survival of Taiwan in the future. Similar agreements have already been signed with other South-East Asian countries and will take effect next year. In order to weather this storm a free-trade agreement between Taipei and Beijing must be signed. The protestors may be rightly concerned about some political concessions made in the course of dealings but it will be worth biting the bullet.

The DPP suggest that 600,000 took part in their protest but this figure is exaggerated and police estimate the figure as being nearer 76,000. Nevertheless the government should be worried that opposition may become more radical and there are already signs of this happening. Let's hope this dog stops barking and doesn't develop a bite.