TAIPEI (Reuters) - The low turnout at a demonstration in Taiwan on Saturday against a trade pact with China pointed to broad but guarded acceptance of the deal by the Taiwanese public.
The 10,000 who attended Saturday’s demonstration in the southern city of Kaohsiung, an opposition stronghold, fell far short of the 50,000 to 100,000 who rallied in previous years against overtures to Beijing by the China-friendly Taiwanese government.
Political analysts said the size of the protest, a month after a sit-in in Taipei attracted only a few hundred, was an indication that Taiwan’s public accepted the deal, wanted to know more details or believed the government was deaf to protests.
The pact with China, known as the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA), is expected to boost the island’s $390 billion export-led economy.
Stronger opposition, and possible delays to the pact as a result, would cool Taiwan markets which are otherwise expected to firm on prospects of stronger ties between Taiwan and economic powerhouse neighbor.
Analysts say much of the public wants a deal of some kind and is keeping quiet until the details and effects become clearer.
“You’re shooting a very vague target through a dense fog,” Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taipei, said of the protests. “And at the bottom of your heart you want a better Taiwan and a better economy.”
The ECFA would boost about $100 billion in annual two-way trade by reducing tariffs on 300 items, but some Taiwanese fear it would flood the island with cheap Chinese goods, costing Taiwanese jobs, or lead to a dependence on political rival Beijing, which claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan.
An official of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which organized Saturday’s demonstration, said some of those attending were more concerned about the rejection by Taiwanese officials of a petition to hold a referendum on the ECFA than because of the deal itself.
“The opposition has a tough time selling the idea that ECFA is a bad thing for Taiwan per se without knowing what is being discussed and included,” said Raymond Wu, managing director of the Taipei-based political risk consultancy e-telligence.
Editing by Andrew Dobbie