Taiwanese student protest leaders who have occupied parliament building in the past week have accepted President Ma Ying-jeou’s offer to meet to resolve an impasse about a controversial trade pact with mainland China.
The students announced their decision on Tuesday at the parliament, where hundreds of demonstrators have gathered inside and outside the building to challenge a contested trade agreement that would open 80 of China’s service sectors to Taiwan, and 64 Taiwanese sectors to China.
Ma had offered to meet the student leaders earlier in the day, saying he was ready to talk without setting any preconditions.
“Without setting any preconditions, President Ma Ying-jeou is willing to invite student representatives to the presidential office for a dialogue about the cross-strait services trade agreement,” Lee Jia-fei, Ma’s spokesperson, said in a statement.
Ma has said the trade agreement is necessary for Taiwan’s economic future, but opponents say the deal could hurt small Taiwanese companies.
Many are also worried the pact will allow Beijing to expand its influence over the island that China still sees as a renegade province.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Taipei, said that the protest movement is expanding to the wider community.
“We see the professors coming out and supporting these students and some colleges are giving students time off to protest,” he said.
|Riot police on Monday used water cannon to disperse hundreds of demonstrators|
The latest protest, which escalated on Sunday when hundreds of demonstrators occupied the Taiwan government’s headquarters, is the biggest challenge to Ma’s rule since he took office in 2008.
“The authorities and the parliament have been largely tolerant to these protests,” McBride said.
“They have been holding talks with the student protests leaders [but] what they will not tolerate though, says the government, is bringing the administration to a standstill.”
Taiwan made a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1980s, and is now one of Asia’s most freewheeling democracies.
Fights in parliament are common and protests are almost a daily occurrence.
Taiwan and China have been ruled separately since Communists took power on the mainland in 1949, though relations have warmed considerably since the China-friendly Ma won the presidency in 2008 and secured re-election in 2012.