BEIJING (Reuters) - Protests by students in Taiwan who occupied the island’s parliament in opposition to a trade pact with China will not affect the development of relations between Beijing and Taipei, state media quoted a top Chinese official as saying on Friday.
The three-week occupation of parliament - which had been accompanied by mass street demonstrations - ended on Thursday, although the students have vowed to press on with the campaign against the trade deal.
It was the largest anti-Beijing protest in years on the island, where Nationalist forces fled in 1949 after losing to the Communists in a civil war.
Zhang Zhijun, head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said some people in Taiwan feared that only large companies would benefit from the trade deal, the official China Daily said.
He was speaking to former Taiwan vice president Vincent Siew on the sidelines of a business forum in southern China’s Hainan province.
Zhang said he wanted to talk to small and medium-sized firms in Taiwan to hear their views and that he was willing to talk to people from “all walks of life” in Taiwan, the newspaper reported.
It was “clear that the protests would not affect the development of cross-strait ties”, Zhang was quoted as telling Siew.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Siew at the same event that China’s economic reforms represented a huge opportunity for Taiwan, the China Daily said.
“We sincerely hope that our Taiwan compatriots can seize the opportunities,” Li said.
Demonstrators, who carried sunflowers as a symbol of hope, said the trade pact would benefit wealthy companies with Chinese links and expressed fears it could lead to Chinese encroachments on Taiwan’s cherished democratic institutions.
Run as a dictatorship for decades after 1949, Taiwan developed democratic institutions from the 1980s and now has a lively legislature, free elections and a vibrant free media.
The pact would open 80 Chinese service sectors to Taiwan investment and 64 Taiwanese sectors to the mainland. Protesters were particularly angry about the opening of sensitive sectors such as printing and advertising.
The pact’s supporters view it as a necessary step in Taiwan’s regional and global integration. President Ma Ying-jeou says it will create jobs.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait