Taipei: Baton-wielding riot police today cleared Taiwan`s Cabinet offices of scores of angry protesters opposed to a trade pact with China, escalating tensions over the island`s rapidly developing ties with the communist mainland. Authorities said they arrested 58 protesters and that 137 were injured, including 24 that were hospitalized. The crackdown came five days after mainly student demonstrators occupied the nearby legislature to protest the ruling party`s decision to renege on a promised line-by-line review of the trade agreement.
Political protests in Taiwan are common, but violent confrontations relatively rare, reflecting the high level of civil discourse resulting from the transition from one-party dictatorship to robust democracy in the mid-1990s. The protests have been mostly peaceful, attracting tens of thousands of supporters to the government center. China`s government has not commented on the protests, although an editorial today in the official newspaper Global Times was harshly critical.
"The Taiwanese students lack the courage and determination to commit to regional economic integration, fear losing out and change and only wish to defend the status quo," the editorial read, contrasting Taiwan`s hesitation with South Korea`s embrace of the Chinese economy.
Today, Ma rejected protester demands to shelve the trade pact, which would open dozens of service sector industries to Chinese investment. It was signed in June by representatives from Taipei and Beijing, but still awaits ratification by Taiwan`s legislature.
Ma said that rejecting the pact now would undermine Taiwan`s credibility and harm its economy, which has become increasingly tied to Chinese markets. Student leaders insist tying Taiwan too closely to China will harm Taiwan`s hard-won democratic freedoms and pave the way for China`s eventual takeover of the island.
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing has long sought to assert its control over the island, using military force if necessary.
The United States has welcomed steps taken by China and Taiwan to reduce tensions.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said today the US supports Taiwan`s vibrant democracy, and hopes that its discussion over the trade agreement can be conducted "peacefully and civilly."