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Taiwan - trade pact with China sparks street protest in Taipei

 

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26 June 2010 Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Taiwan have been venting their anger at a trade deal with China, to be signed on Tuesday.

Supporters say it will boost Taiwan's economy but critics fear it could pave the way for a Chinese takeover. China and Taiwan have been separately governed since the end of a civil war in 1949, though China still sees the island as its territory.

Leaders of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party are calling for Taiwan to hold a referendum on the pact, known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.

Police said around 32,000 people took part in the protests. The opposition said there were 100,000 demonstrators on the streets. "The Taiwanese have worked so hard to achieve the democracy we have today, and we will not allow China to control us," he continued.

Job loss fears
Taiwan's government has said the deal is crucial to keep its exports competitive with those of China's other trade partners.

But the opposition DPP say the deal could be the first step in a Chinese political takeover. Most Taiwanese resist the idea of unification with the Communist mainland. It fears China, the dominant partner, will in time gain greater control over what goes on here as a result.

The protesters suspect China is giving concessions now but will exact a heavy price at a later date. For China's leaders, though, this probably is more about politics than economics. They hope this deal will help them to win hearts and minds in Taiwan.

That is important if they are ever to achieve their goal of bringing the island back under the control of Beijing. The opposition also warns that a flood of cheap Chinese imports could lead to factory closures and the loss of jobs.

Despite decades of animosity, the two neighbours have become major trading partners, says the BBC's Cindy Sui in Taipei.

China has offered what are considered unusually generous terms, cutting tariffs on 539 Taiwanese products entering its market. These include car parts, petrochemicals and fruit. In contrast, only 267 Chinese products would benefit from reduced tariffs on the Taiwanese side.

China would be able to invest in some Taiwanese service industries, while Taiwan would gain access to sectors such as computer services and airline maintenance in China. The government of President Ma Ying-Jeou has made closer ties with China one of its leading policies.

Its aim is to reduce tensions across the Taiwan Strait, a flashpoint for decades since 1949. China still has more than 1,000 missiles targeting the island as a warning against declaring formal independence. Opinion polls indicate that a majority of Taiwanese back the trade agreement.

It could open the way for Taiwan to sign free-trade deals with other countries, something Beijing has resisted in the past.

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