Tensions are rising in Taiwan after students occupied two government buildings to protest a trade pact with mainland China. The trade pact signifies growing relations with China and has drawn criticism from many Taiwanese citizens. Police have now been battling protesters to regain control of the buildings and appear to have succeeded in evicting the protesters. While the government may have gained control of the buildings, protests are likely to continue as many Taiwanese citizens remain fearful of mainland China.
The confrontation has been described as intense as police used riot gear to break through a wall of arm-lined protesters. Accounts indicate that protesters did not use violence, however the police were heavy-handed in their response. At least 58 people were arrested for trespassing and a dozen people were injured.
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Protests planned and coordinated
The protest appears to have been months in the making, and while Taiwan’s swift response against the protesters may have helped the government regain control of its buildings, it’s possible that it could only fuel the anti-China movement.
Students have occupied government buildings since last Tuesday. While China’s growing influence over Taiwan was the primary driver behind the protests, it wasn’t the only issue. The students also cited concerns over the lack of protection for small businesses in the trade deal.
The government claims that the trade deal is essential for Taiwan’s future prosperity. With Taiwan’s principle Western trading partners suffering from stagnant economic growth and demand, and China quickly emerging as Asia’s regional power, closer ties with China will help Taiwan maintain its forward momentum.
The trade pact will open up 80 of China’s mainland service sectors to Taiwanese businesses, and 64 of Taiwan’s service sectors to China. The trade pact should increase cross straits trade and draw the two countries closer together. Protesters, however, do not see this as a positive development but instead a threat to Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Taiwan-China relations have global implications
As contentious as the Russian invasion of Crimea is, the potential conflict that could erupt over Taiwan easily overshadows the Crimean crisis. Taiwan has long been a close ally of the United States, and until 1971 Taiwan actually controlled China’s seat in the United Nations.
With China emerging as a global power, however, the Taiwan issue could become extremely sensitive in the future. The United States would likely not back down in the face of Chinese aggression as doing so would greatly diminish U.S. influence in the region. At the same time, China views Taiwan as nothing more than a rogue state and will not let it slip from its sphere of influence.